Four free throws by Washington State in the final minute was the difference as Texas Southern dropped a hard-fought 56-52 season opener Wednesday night in Pullman, Wash.
The first half provided a glimpse of what was to come as Washington State broke open an 8-8 tie and led 14-8 early. TSU responded with a 10-3 run over the next 2:09 to lead 18-14 as the Tigers hit a pair of three-pointers to spark the run. The Cougars would rally to tie the contest at 18-all after the run and began a back-and-forth affair which featured three ties over the next 9:25. A trey by John Walker III moved TSU back ahead 28-26 with 1:58 left and the Tigers managed to keep the lead as they led 31-28 entering the second half.
Despite not having the opportunity to scrimmage opposing teams prior to the regular season, TSU began to settle in against its Pac-12 foe at the start of the second half. The Tigers opened up the half with an 8-3 run to claim its largest lead at 39-31 less than four minutes in. However, WSU responded with a 10-0 run as Isaac Bonton was pretty much a one-man show with nine points during the surge. An 0-for-5 shooting drought by TSU allowed WSU to creep back in but TSU managed to retake a 42-41 lead after Justin Hopkins’ and-one at the 11:06 mark.
The next three minutes saw the game slow to a crawl as WSU jumped back ahead 43-42 which was partly due to only one TSU made basket during that span. Things continued to go WSU’s way as they went on a 9-0 run once again sparked by Bonton’s seven points for a 50-42 advantage with 5:15 left. Despite the momentum gained by WSU, the Tigers battled back and made it a contest as Galen Alexander scored five points to ignite an 8-0 run which allowed TSU to knot the contest at 50-all with 3:37 left.
It was tense over the final 3:37 as WSU’s Aljaz Kunc hit two free throws for a 52-50 lead with 1:54 remaining. TSU would turn the ball over after the free throws but avoided a mishap as Michael Weathers grabbed a huge rebound off a WSU three-point attempt. Weathers was fouled on the possession and calmly nailed two free throws to knot the game at 52-all with 1:01 remaining.
Both teams traded missed baskets but a foul by the Tigers with 28 seconds put WSU at the line. Kunc hit both free throws and TSU was whistled for a charge on its next attempt which led to two more free throws by WSU which ultimately sealed the game.
Alexander, Weathers and Walker III all finished with 10 points apiece with Weathers falling short of a double-double in his TSU debut with nine rebounds along with four steals. Walker III and Alexander both grabbed seven boards while Gilliam dished out a team-high four assists.
TSU is back in action Saturday evening as they’ll face Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla. at 6:30 p.m.