PULLMAN, Wash. (AP)—No. 4 Washington State finished its nonconference season undefeated for the first time in seven decades.
Washington State (12-0) overwhelmed many of the nondescript teams on its schedule, and things will be much tougher when Pacific-10 play begins next week.
“It’s time. We don’t need any more nonconference games,” Cougars coach Tony Bennett said after the Cougars routed North Carolina A&T 67-34, holding the Aggies 42 points below their season average and forcing 19 turnovers.
Washington State came into the game leading the nation in defense, allowing just 51 points per game. They have beaten six opponents by at least 20 points, and have allowed only one opponent, Boise State, to score more than 70 points this season.
Their toughest games were a 3-point win at Baylor and a 4-point win at Gonzaga. The Cougars have played only four home games, unusual for a major conference team.
“Now it’s really going to step up,” he said. “We aren’t going to hold teams in our league to 40 points.”
The Cougars rolled to a 33-12 halftime lead and then outscored the Aggies 20-4 to open the second half. Derrick Low had 19 points to lead all scorers, while Aron Baynes added 10 points and eight rebounds.
Bennett gave his bench plenty of minutes, and the Cougars ended up shooting 47 percent and committing only eight turnovers.
Little-used Caleb Forrest played 23 minutes because of an injury that sidelined Daven Harmeling, scoring eight points and grabbing seven rebounds.
“He doesn’t look like poetry in motion,” Bennett said. “But he is effective and efficient at times.”
North Carolina A&T (5-8) shot just 25 percent in their lowest scoring output of the season. Leading scorer Steven Rush led them with eight points, half his season average, thanks to excellent defense by Kyle Weaver.
“We couldn’t put the ball in the basket,” Aggies’ coach Jerry Eaves said. “They are too strong for us to enter the post.”
The game, the first meeting between the teams, was a late addition to the NC A&T schedule after another game fell through, Eaves said.
“They were the only game we could find,” Eaves said.
Washington State has tied its best start since 1991-92. The school record is 17-0, set in 1914-15. It is the first time since the 1935-36 season the Cougars were undefeated in the nonconference season.
The game was decided early before a small and quiet Christmas week crowd. The Cougars went on an early 12-0 run for a 17-5 lead. They extended that to 33-12 at halftime.
Washington State opened the second half by making its first nine shots in a 20-4 run for a 53-16 lead.
It’s been a tough stretch for North Carolina A&T. Of the eight undefeated teams in the Top 25, the Aggies have now lost to three—Washington State, Pittsburgh and Miami. They have also lost to Tennessee, which has just one loss.
“Besides Pitt, they are the best team we’ve played,” Eaves said.
Poll voters lifted Washington State to No. 4 on Christmas Eve. The previous team record of No. 6 was set earlier this month.