PULLMAN – Marcus Capers is a wily old veteran who loves a challenge, especially when it comes to defense. So after watching Sacramento State’s John Dickson light up the Cougs for 16 first-half points Thursday night in Pullman, Capers approached WSU head coach Ken Bone at halftime and asked if he could guard the Dickson in the game’s final 20 minutes.
Dickson, a 6-6, 195-pound forward from San Francisco, hit 7 of 12 field goals in the first half and his team as a whole hit 51.7 percent of its shots to take a surprising 39-36 lead into intermission.
Given the one-sided way last season’s game between these teams unfolded – a game in which WSU started out on a 27-0 run – the notion of a Hornet lead at any point in time was rather astounding.
That changed in the second half, no small thanks to the 6-4, 174-pound Capers.
Hounded by Capers, Dickson managed just five points on 2-of-6 shooting from the field in the second period and WSU won 79-68.
"In the first half a lot of people backed off of him and I just told coach that I wanted to guard him," Capers said. "… I was more physical with him in the second half and stopped him, I guess, from doing what he did in the first half."
The defensive cushion that allowed Dickson to catch and shoot so effectively in the first half was effectively eliminated in the second.
It wasn’t all defense, though. The Cougars came out with an energy in the second half, at both ends of the court, that was missing in the first 20 minutes.
"We look at it as being a young team," Capers said of the Cougs’ sluggish start. "We just came out dead, but in the second half we were more together and I think that helped us out defensively. I think in the first half we backed off from some of the contact but in the second half we were creating the contact."
Cougar freshman guard DaVonte Lacy said that Bone preached to the players in the locker room about coming back out with energy, and the Cougars responded.
They went on a 7-2 run to tie the game at 41 and then took the the lead for good on a Brock Motum lay-in. Motum turned in a stellar effort on the night, leading the Cougs in scoring for the second-straight game, this time with 23 points, and also pulling down 8 rebounds.
Bone said that the junior from Down Under, who led the Pac-10 in field goal accuracy, is working hard to help offset the departure of offensive juggernaut Klay Thompson.
"He needs to be a main target (on offense)," Bone said. "He needs to be one of the guys that we're always looking for because he is good scoring the ball."
With the score 63-55 late in the second half, Lacy put the nail on the coffin on the Hornets when he received a brilliant no-look pass from Faisal Aden and threw down a thunderous two-handed slam that set off an explosion of cheers at Friel Court. After the game, Lacy was asked if Capers taught him to how to dunk, and the freshman joked he's the one doing the teaching.
"He actually called me when I committed (to WSU) and said I want to take notes from you on how to dunk, so you're talking to the teacher here," Lacy quipped. "It was just showcasing some energy and it was a great pass from Faisal."
The Cougars had three first-time starters Thursday night, with Lacy, Mike Ladd, and Will DiIorio all making their first career starts.
Lacy had a career-high 15 points, while Faisal Aden added a season high 18 points for the Cougars. Lacy also dished 5 assists and Aden nabbed 5 steals.
Bone praised the play of Charlie Enquist, D.J. Shelton, and Dexter Kernich-Drew. The three combined for 12 points and three rebounds in 18 combined minutes of play.
Bone said the Cougs needs to work on their transition defense.
The 1-1 Cougs play at the University of Portland on Sunday.