Saturday was Senior Day for Washington State. There was a basketball game that followed ceremonies honoring young men who would be playing their final regular season game in Pullman.
It took Coach Tony Bennett's Cougs an extra overtime period to earn a victory 51-49 over No. 14 Arizona State.
The win for Washington State kept them in the spotlight for post-season play and ended the basketball careers of Aron Baynes, Daven Harmeling, Caleb Forrest, andTaylor Rochestie playing in front of the tremendous Zzu Cru student section.
None of those young men are finished playing Bennett Ball. There's a final Pac-10 game, the tournament and then an invitation to post-season play.
On a day celebrating seniors, it was the young guns who made the difference overall.
From the opening tip to the final buzzer in overtime, this was a hard fought basketball game. Neither team giving in to the other. The largest lead for either club was a two-possession six points.
The game got off to a great start for WSU, jumping out to 5-0 margin and looked to be on a roll.
There would be no one rolling along through Beasley Coliseum. At least not against the sharp shooting Sun Devils, best in the conference.
Light a couple of heavy weights, ASU countered with a 13-2 run and their largest lead at 13-7.
Arizona State held the lead for the rest of the first half.
When it appeared the game might get slipping away from the Cougs, Coach Bennett took full advantage of a television timeout at the 7:59 mark and the score 19-14 in favor of the Sun Devils.
At this point in the game, WSU wasn't effecting the shooting of ASU who were a blistering 5-7 from behind the arc and a torrid 58% overall from the floor. It was time for the Cougar young guns to step up.
Aggressive play by Thompson, Casto and Capers took ASU out of their offensive rhythm. Their pressure was highlighted by a pair of blocked shots by the athletic Capers.
The score at intermission was 23-20 ASU. Just the sort of low scoring affair expected when two of the best defensive clubs in the nation play each other.
Throughout Pac-10 play, Coach Bennett and his staff have done an outstanding job making adjustments during halftime to get their team into a position to win. This game was no different.
Roles reversed in the second twenty minutes of play.
It was WSU who held the lead or was tied for 19:41 of the second half.
With less than six minutes to play, the energy of WSU put them on an 18-9 run and a six point lead at 38-32.
It was quintessential Bennett Ball highlighted by a couple of shot blocks by Casto and Thompson.
The Sun Devils looked every bit the part of a top team, neither folding nor letting up pressure of their own.
Washington State appeared to have the win locked up in regulation with the score 43-40 when Harden missed a driving shot and ASU was forced to foul the best free throw shooter in the history of Cougar hoops. Rochestie went to the line and proceeded to miss the front end of a one-and-one.
Coach Herb Sendek called time out to set up a play, making certain that the ball ended up in the hands of the best player in the Pac-10, James Harden.
Naturally Coach Bennett was countering with his own strategy to defend Harden, putting Capers on him.
It almost worked.
When Harden was forced into taking his three-point attempt, Capers was with him the whole way. Problem with that play is that when you have the best player in the conference defended by a freshman, the officials will whistle the slightest of fouls.
If that was Coach Sendek's strategy, it worked.
Three free throws later, the game was sent to overtime.
ASU scored first on a graceful three-pointer by Derek Glasser to take the early lead in the extra period.
On Senior Day, most of the big plays were made by the WSU young guns. About ninety seconds into overtime, Thompson made another big play by drawing the fifth and final foul on Harden. ASU would have to go the final three and a half minutes without their leader and play maker.
Thompson was sent to the charity stripe, perhaps the most comfortable place on the court for the young man from Southern California. Klay has made every free throw attempt in his college career. Naturally he would begin the surge toward victory by converting a pair of foul shots.
Klay missed the front end of the one-and-one.
No matter. Senior Caleb Forrest grabbed the board and senior Aron Baynes flushed the rock.
Pure shooting Glasser wasn't finished. He knocked down another of his patented treys in the waning moments of overtime to put ASU up by one 49-48 with under 90 seconds left.
All afternoon the crowd of 10,721 on hand were doing their part to support Washington State. Instead of a collective sigh going up after the Glasser bucket, the fans ignored the clock and score continuing a deafening roar to urge the Cougs on.
Even after Rochestie missed a runner with less than 50 seconds left, the fans were on their feet willing their team to victory.
After yet another defensive stand, WSU had a chance to win the game.
The ball ended up in the hands of Rochestie with about eight seconds to go. He wanted to work the ball inside for an easy shot because any basket would seal the deal.
Nothing offensively comes easy against a Coach Sendek defense.
Rochestie couldn't get the ball inside and was keenly aware that none of his shots were falling on Senior Day. But a quick glance at the shot clock told Taylor that time was running out.
With the confidence of a senior, Rochestie squared his feet and fired up a straight-away three-point shot from just about downtown Moscow, ID.
It went in.
The crowd went so wild, they might not have even noticed one last futile heave at the basket by a stunned Sun Devil team.
Final score in overtime: WSU 51 - ASU 49
Coach Bennett and all of Cougar Nation couldn't have scripted a better ending for Senior Day:
"I'm so proud of our defense. That's what won this game. That's the way they (the seniors) came in and that's the the way they go out."
An emotional and physically draining game, Washington State can savor the moment. Players can take time with their families to enjoy the culmination of playing days in Pullman.
WSU has a full week to prepare for their final conference game against cross-state rival Washington.
This victory marked the end of the young gun era for Coach Bennett's troops.
The Cougs will travel to Seattle next weekend as a confident, mature "team."
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