When the Cougars (5-0), who extended their record to 40-0 in November games at Friel Court, raced out to an insurmountable 27-0 lead, walk-ons Ben Loewen and Will DiIorio were assured of seeing plenty of early time together on the court.
Loewen, a redshirt junior guard from Spokane’s Mead High School who started his career at Whitworth University, did not need the fans to rally him into attempting a 3-pointer. He converted one shortly after entering the game. Loewen converted 3 of 6 shots, including a pair from beyond the arch, to finish with eight points.
DiIorio, a 6-foot-5 true freshman from Bainbridge who was the Metro League’s MVP last season, had his own highlight with a soaring dunk that drew loud cheers and was punctuated by a celebratory body bump from assistant coach Curtis Allen as he returned to the bench. DiIorio made 2 of 3 field goals en route to seven points.
“We got an opportunity to play everybody and get some guys decent minutes who don’t regularly play,” WSU coach Ken Bone said during a postgame radio interview. “That’s a real positive.”
WSU, which hosts No. 5 Kansas State at 8 p.m. Friday (TV: FSN), again was without starting center DeAngelo Casto and point guard Reggie Moore. Casto missed his second consecutive game after he suffered a sprained right foot during practice last week, while Moore has not played this season because of an injured left wrist.
WSU assistant sports information director Jessica Schmick stated in a news release after the game that Moore will wear a splint on his wrist and is probable for Friday's tilt. Bone said Casto remains day-to-day.
EVERYONE ELSE ON the roster who was available participated on Tuesday, though. Center Steven Bjornstad, who had not played this season because of knee problems, entered with about 8 minutes, 30 seconds remaining in the game and scored on a layup almost immediately to give the Cougars a 70-30 advantage.
The Hornets (2-4) did not score for the first 9:59 minutes — a streak that was reminiscent of the Dick and Tony Bennett era where WSU often shut out opponents for several minutes with stifling defense. Sacramento State finally scored on a layup by guard Antoine Proctor.
Perhaps the only other notable statistic for the Hornets, who trailed 47-17 at halftime en route to their most lopsided loss of the season, was their ability to convert a second-half shot from beyond the arch that extended their streak of consecutive games with at least one 3-pointer to 469. They shot just 31.9 percent from the field.
The Cougars also outrebounded Sacramento State 43-30 and had just eight turnovers. Bone, whose team built early leads in previous games against Idaho and Portland only to see them vanish, was able to avoid that.
“I’m satisfied with the way that transpired,” Bone said. “At some point I think it’s hard to keep your focus.”
Because of the early run, Bone was able to limit the minutes for his starters. Thompson had a game-high 16 points and also added five assists in 27 minutes.
“Any time Klay or Abe can pass the ball, that’s good,” said junior wing Marcus Capers during a postgame radio interview. “It’s time we can take off the clock. Nobody wants to play defense except me and DeAngelo.”
Junior guard Faisal Aden and sophomore forward Brock Motum, who converted all five of his shots, each had 11 points. Motum now is shooting 84.6 percent from the field.
“He’s a smart player,” said Capers, who had a team-high six assists. “He’s really fundamental.”
WSU will need more of that against the Wildcats, who physically pushed the Cougars around in an 86-69 loss last season in Kansas.
“I’m sure our guys remember our experience at Kansas State last year,” Bone said. “They thumped us.”