Cougar hoops: Rookie post shines in debut

Senior D.J. Shelton led all scorers with 17

PULLMAN – On a night of debuts, ranging from the uniforms to the high-pressure defense, all eyes were on newcomers Que Johnson and Ike Iroegbu. But it was another freshman, post-man Josh Hawkinson, who ended up stealing the show in the eyes of Washington State head coach Ken Bone.

Asked about the work of his rookies Friday night after the Cougars defeated Central Washington 93-56 in exhibition action at Beasley Coliseum, Bone's first words were reserved for Hawkinson, a 6-10, 240-pound post out of Shorewood High north of Seattle.

"I thought Josh Hawkinson was real good, for the amount of minutes he played," Bone said.

Hawkinson played just ten minutes but managed to grab eight rebounds to go along with six points, three assists and one block.

With Jordan Railey absent from action as part of the residue from his recently concluded suspension from the team, opportunities opened in the post for Hawkinson and sophomore Junior Longrus.

Longrus registered a double-double, scoring 10 points and pulling down 10 rebounds in 22 minutes. He also had one block.

"Junior did a pretty good job," Bone said.

Longrus was in the starting lineup, joined by D.J. Shelton in the post, and complemented by guards Royce Woolridge, DaVonte Lacy and Dexter Kernich-Drew.

"Maybe Railey will supplement him (Longrus, in the starting line up)," Bone said, but he knows for sure that he has three players he's going to be comfortable putting in the post.

"Josh Hawkinson was really good. I just don't know who's going to get those (post) minutes but all three of those guys most likely have to play in the post and that's a good group of guys to play those 40 minutes."

As far as the other youngsters on the team were concerned, rust appeared to be the theme of the night. Johnson, recently back from a foot injury, was one of the first players to come off the bench. He and senior Will DiIroio relieved Kernich-Drew and Shelton just minutes into the first half. Johnson got off to a shaky start, struggling to find his rhythm early and missing all three of his long-range attempts in the first half.

"I was a little bit nervous, but after the game I was pretty good ready for the next one," said Johnson.

Johnson's first field goal of the game came on a put-back layup as the first-half buzzer sounded and the second of his two made field goals came on a three-pointer late in the second half, moments after having a shot blocked the previous time down the court.

"It felt good…I was 2 for 7 but it felt good to finally make a basket," said Johnson, a second-year freshman, who finished with 7 points and 1 rebounds in 19 minutes of playing time.

It took a little longer for Iroegbu to find his way into the game, checking in at about the 14-minute mark of the first half for Woolridge at point guard. He too looked a bit out of sorts in his first collegiate action. Like Johnson, he went 2-7 and failed to knock down any of the three jumpers he put up from long distance. He struggled in the half-court offense , with the majority of his production coming after he would grab an offensive board and pushi the tempo himself. That's how he collected his 3 assists on the night.

"I could say I was just a little bit nervous at the beginning but after my first time up and down I think I was fine after that," said Iroegbu, who scored 6 points and snagged 4 rebounds in 17 minutes.

"I like the way they came in and played, you could kind of tell they were nervous but once they got in the flow things, things start falling into place. I think they did real good in their first game," said Shelton of Iroegbu and Johnson.

While the outcome was never in doubt, Bone viewed the results as a mixed bag.

"I thought a couple of them (Cougar players) didn't play up to par but for the most part. for their first time playing in Beasley in front of a little bit of a crowd, we took some baby steps there but I thought some guys did some good things," Bone said.

Asked how he expects Iroegbu to develop at the point, Bone was optimistic although the freshman's debut wasn't necessarily a stellar performance.

"Ike's going to be good," he said. "He has a lot of talent, he's very gifted in a number of areas. One of those areas is that he's extremely coachable. To me he's got the package to be a great player, he will be."

All of Iroegbu's minutes were at the point, and many of them came with Woolridge, the starting PG, right beside him as the 2 guard. That particular setup – Woolridge at the 2 -- is something Bone likes because Woolridge is such a capable scorer.

"We will see that once in a while because those guys are both good players and they need to be able to play together. But Royce is the one with the most experience so we figure he's the one that wil shift over to the off-guard ….

"Ike, we don't want to muddy things up for him so we're just letting him and allowing to him to stay with one spot, the point guard spot." <>br>
The Cougs' new pressure defense proved to be effective in some facets more than others. The emphasis on ball denial didn't directly translate into steals or fast break opportunities but it did stifle the Wildcat offense. The Cougar held Central Washington to 33 percent shooting from the field and forced 14 turnovers which resulted in 16 points.

Watching the videotape of the game will determine how successful the new defense was, according to Bone. He said he thought the defense was "OK" but a film session would tell him more. No extra tape was needed however, for the head coach to point out aspects of the team's defense that surely need improvement.

"I think we need to do a better job of moving our feet and keeping guys in front of us. We need to continue to work on our execution offensively and be more precise in what we're trying to do. There's a lot of room for improvement," he said.

NOTABLES:

  • Shelton led all scorers with 17 points, going 5-7 from the field (3 for 3 from downtown) to go along with eight rebounds. "He just played within himself," said Bone. "He did a great job of allowing the game to come to him and not forcing the issue which he was doing earlier on in his career here."

  • Kernich-Drew logged 26 minutes of court time, scoring 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the field, and pulled down 6 rebounds.

  • Lacy had a team-high 28 minutes of action. He scored 12 points, had 5 rebounds and 2 assists.

  • The Cougars dominated the boards, outrebounding the Wildcats 53-22. "I think everyone came in and did what they had to do, stuck to their assignment, Josh came in and got eight big boards, and Junior got 10 and that was big," said Shelton.

  • Bone went with a lot of quick subs throughout the game, noting that observing from the sideline is a great way for players to improve their game. "Great time of year to teach, and the best teacher is the bench," he said.

  • Washington State will open up the regular season in Pullman against CSU Bakersfield next Friday, Nov. 8, at 7 p.m.
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