IT NEVER IS about one play. But Ken Bone felt like the Cougs were building momentum when senior center Charlie Enquist corralled a rebound with about 3 minutes, 20 seconds left and Wazzu trailing by six points. Alas, Enquist then was stripped and Pittsburgh took control from there as WSU lost 71-65 in the decisive game of the best-of-three College Basketball Invitational on Friday.
“That was a critical turnover because we had a little momentum going,” WSU coach Ken Bone said in a postgame radio interview. “That could’ve been the swing we needed going the other way.”
Instead of a chance to potentially cut the deficit to one possession, guard Tray Woodall drew a foul on senior wing Marcus Capers with 3:05 remaining.
Woodall converted both free throws to extend the Panthers’ lead to 65-57. Pittsburgh (22-17) then extended its lead to 67-57 on a pair of free throws by forward Talib Zanna. The Panthers maintained a double-digit lead until junior point guard Reggie Moore scored on a drive with 34 seconds left.
One significant difference between the teams was free-throw shooting. Pittsburgh converted 19 of 26 from the stripe, which includes two misses in the final minute, while the Cougars made 19 of 29.
WSU also had its share of lapses. The Panthers outscored the Cougars 14-2 on turnovers. Perhaps just as significant were the mistakes on the defensive end as Pittsburgh shot 50 percent from the field.
There might not have been a more significant sequence than when reserve forward J.J. Moore, who scored 11 points off the bench, was fouled attempting a 3-pointers with 13:58 left. After making the first two free throws, Moore missed the final one but the rebound was secured by Zanna, who scored a layup. That gave the Panthers a 48-44 advantage -- one they would not relinquish.
Five Pittsburgh players, led by Woodall’s 17, scored in double figures.
But WSU, which played without junior center Brock Motum (sprained right foot) all three games against the Panthers, featured its own offensive highlights. The Cougars (19-18) shot 52.5 percent from the field. All three players who scored in double figures, Moore (18), junior wing Mike Ladd (12) and freshman guard DaVonté Lacy (10), are projected to return next season.
That trio, along with Motum, and the emergence of others could put WSU in a better position next season.
Particularly if the Cougars can stay healthy.
Their second-leading scorer, senior guard Faisal Aden, suffered a season-ending knee injury Jan. 26 at Arizona. Senior forward Abe Lodwick and Ladd also missed significant playing time.
“In the offseason you create a philosophy and strategy for your program,” Bone said. “When some of your key players get injured, you find yourself continually trying to adjust.”
Bone credited his seniors for helping to carry WSU through that adversity.
“I’m so proud of Charlie, Abe and Marcus and what they’ve given the program,” Bone said. “It would’ve been easy for those seniors to say, ‘We’re done.’ They’ve had great attitudes.”
It nearly culminated in the Cougars’ second straight 20-win season.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t get the win,” Capers said. “But I appreciate everything the Coug fans have done.”
He finished with nine points, while Lodwick added eight. Lodwick missed all four of his 3-point attempts. It marked the first time since March 3 against USC that he has not made a 3-pointer.
“He had a tough time getting off shots because of their defense,” said Bone, adding that the same applied to sophomore forward Patrick Simon. “They knew where he was at all times.”
Moore’s five assists gave him 193 this season, which is the most in program history. Dominic Ellison had 192 in 1994-95.
With 48 free throws during the tournament, Moore establish a record for the five-year-old CBI.
Lacy’s seven rebounds matched his career-high, which he set Wednesday.