PULLMAN – The UTEP Miners put an exclamation point on the train wreck that was Washington State’s athletic department on Saturday. Hours after the Cougar football team blunted a season’s worth of momentum in less than three minutes, and the women’s basketball team lost a tight one to Gonzaga, the Miners waltzed over the Cougar men’s hoops team 64-51 in Pullman.
The loss ended a three-game winning streak for the Cougars, who are now 6-5. If it hadn’t been for a dismal first half, the outcome easily could have been different.
The Cougars managed but 17 points in the first half, shooting a woeful 27 percent from the floor. The poor accuracy rate was fueled by 1 of 12 shooting from downtown.
The Miners (7-5), a lanky team that likes to penetrate the key, shot 50 percent from the floor and took a 28-17 lead into the break.
“UTEP’s a great team,” WSU guard DeVonte Lacy said. “I think they are the fourth-biggest team in the country.”
Lacy, who leads WSU in scoring at 20 points a game, was held to six points. He said he wasn’t frustrated by that, just frustrated with the overall result.
“We’re disappointed,” Lacy said. “Especially at home … I don’t think we came out ready to play like we needed to and they did what they should have.”
What UTEP did was combine a solid outside game with a slash and score offense and a defense that completely shut down WSU.
In the first 30 minutes the Cougs also needed an outside game as UTEP cruised to a 19-point lead (41-22) with 15 minutes left to play.
With Que Johnson eventually finding his stroke, hitting five treys and a couple of jumpers, the Cougars managed to close within single digits with seven minutes left in the game.
“(UTEP) was fully denying DeVonte so I took it upon myself personally to attack,” Johnson said.
Lacy wasn’t completely neutralized, though. He put in a layup with two minutes left and was fouled. His subsequent free throw narrowed the score to 59-51.
Alas, Lacy’s old fashioned 3-point play ended up being the final Cougs’ final points of the night.
On the offensive end, the game was about as sobering as they come for the Cougs:
20-of-,59 from the field (34 percent) and 7-of-27 from 3-point land (26 percent;)
Missed layups and dunks from the post;
A paltry 4-of-11 from the free throw line.
WSU coach Ken Bone said UTEP did a good job denying Lacy the ball, but the Cougs prepared for that. What ultimately did them in was their inability to put the ball through the hoop.
“We didn’t make baskets,” he said. “At some point you’ve got to make baskets.”
“We want both,” Bone said of outside and inside scoring opportunities. “We want a good balance. … In the second half (we’re) right next to the hoop and we couldn’t put it in. We missed a dunk.”
Bone said part of that problem may be with the kinds of teams they have been playing. Over the last month WSU has picked up wins over San Francisco State, Pepperdine and Idaho -- all teams that play quality basketball, but not teams with long, lanky and quick players.
UTEP is just that kind of team, and it is the kind of team the Cougars can expect to see once league play starts on Jan. 2.
“This is a great group of kids,” Bone said. “They are taking it hard. They aren’t just writing it off, saying ‘whatever, let’s go home for Christmas.’ Some teams could do that. This team is not like that. … They want to win, They want to win for each other.”
Players will have Dec. 22-25 off, but they return Dec. 26 for practice and have a game Dec. 28, at home against Mississippi Valley at 5 p.m. Then it’s off to Arizona for the start of the Pac-12 season.
Johnson was WSU’s leading scorer with 21 points, followed by D.J. Shelton with 9. Shelton also had 11 rebounds for the second straight game.