PULLMAN, Wash. (AP) — Washington State students completed final exams Friday, but Cougars basketball coach Ernie Kent knew his players faced one more challenging test Friday night at Beasley Coliseum.
"I looked at this as a final exam," Kent said after WSU pulled out a 78-73 overtime win against Texas State. "I didn't think we had a great grade - maybe a C, C-plus."
Kent added, "We knew guys were fatigued from being up late studying, all those things. I'd like them to play a little bit sharper, but the bottom line is, first of all, you get the win."
The Cougars never trailed after a 15-1 run midway through the first half. However, the Bobcats cut a 13-point deficit to seven at halftime and forged a pair of ties late in the second half.
"I'm very proud of the way our kids fought back," Bobcats coach Danny Kaspar said.
"I was very impressed (with Texas State)," WSU guard Ike Iroegbu said.
Iroegbu led the Cougars (7-2) with 18 points, including a key 3-point play with WSU leading by one in overtime. Josh Hawkinson added 17 points and 12 rebounds before a crowd of 1,233.
Senior forward Emani Gant topped the Bobcats (5-3) with a career-high 24 points. He missed the front end of a 1-and-1 free-throw opportunity with 13.3 seconds left in regulation and the score tied at 66, but WSU's Charles Callison failed to convert off a drive just before time expired.
Kaspar's teams are known for playing stingy defense and patient offense, but the 78 points allowed (12 in overtime) were a season high against Texas State. The Bobcats ranked third in the nation through Thursday with 56.6 points allowed per game before the Cougars - ranked 13th in field-goal shooting percentage at 50.2 at the start of the day - shot better than 53.0 percent for the fourth consecutive game, and the fifth time in six games.
Most college players prefer playing an up-tempo offensive game. Asked how Kasper convinces players to slow things down on offense and focus on defense, Gant smiled and said. "I don't know, but he's doing it. Coach has been doing it a long time . it works. It's proven."
The Cougars outrebounded the smaller Bobcats 43-21, but Gant and Anthony Roberson (12 points) helped Texas State outscore WSU 42-38 in the paint. Texas State wing Ethan Montalvo scored 13 points, including eight free throws in as many tries.
The Bobcats outscored WSU 37-30 in the second half, but Kent said the Cougars' defense improved in the final half. Texas State scored 29 points and shot 36.7 percent from the field in the opening half, then scored 37 points and hit 59.3 percent in the second half.
"We just weren't locked in (defensively in the first half)," Kent said.
Texas State: Danny Kaspar ranks 25th among active NCAA Division I coaches with 492 wins (and 235 losses). Kaspar had just three losing seasons in 22 years at Incarnate Word (nine years) and Stephen F. Austin (13 years) before suffering through losing seasons the past two years after coming to Texas State. SFA lost to Syracuse in 2009 in Kasper's only NCAA tournament appearance.
Washington State: Through Thursday, the Cougars ranked second in the nation with 7.3 blocked shots per game. Nevada led with 7.6. WSU had five blocks against the Bobcats.
HAWK IS ONE TOUGH BIRD
Hawkinson's double-double was his fourth straight and sixth this season.
Texas State hosts Howard Payne on Monday.
Washington State plays No. 3 Oklahoma on Tuesday at the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu.