PULLMAN – Even as Washington State raced out to its largest lead of the game, the Cougars knew enough about Arizona State’s recent history to understand why it was important they not grow complacent.
The Sun Devils nearly lured the Cougars into their trap anyway.
After erasing a 22-point deficit to stun No. 22 Arizona four days earlier, Arizona State wiped out a 15-deficit against Washington State, making things tense in the second half of Wednesday night’s game.
CJ Elleby made sure tension didn’t turn into disappointment, capping another exhilarating night at Beasley Coliseum with a game-winning, step-back 3-pointer to finally stick a fork in the Sun Devils, leading the Cougars to a 67-65 win in front of 2,811 fans.
The game’s final basket began with Isaac Bonton bringing the ball past midcourt, shaking off his defender, and swinging the ball to Elleby, who stood at the top of the three-point arc. The sophomore made a move forward, dribbled between his legs once and rocked back, creating space between himself and ASU’s Rob Edwards. Then Elleby rose up and fired, backpedaling as he watched the ball drop through the net.
“Isaac (Bonton) asked what to run,” WSU head coach Kyle Smith said, “and I said, ‘Give it to CJ.’ ”
“He’s clutch,” Bonton said. “Ice in his veins.”
Jaelen House threw an errant pass into the crowd on ASU’s final possession, securing WSU’s fourth consecutive home Pac-12 win and the Cougars’ fourth in five tries.
Elleby, who chest-bumped Bonton and Jeff Pollard as the clock ran out before gesturing to the crowd, finished with a game-high 27 points and 12 rebounds. WSU’s top scorer was 8 of 19 from the field, 4 of 10 from three-point range and 7 of 11 from the free throw line.
The slender forward was partially responsible for putting the Cougars into the position they were in with two minutes left, so it was only right he was the one to rescue them. Elleby missed the front end of two separate 1-and-1 sequences, allowing ASU to go up 64-62 – the Sun Devils’ first advantage since the 12:47 mark of the first half.
Elleby made a tough, contested stepback jumper to tie the game at 64-64 before ASU’s Jalen Graham converted one of two free throws to put the Sun Devils back up 65-64. The Cougars then put the ball back in the hands of their steady sophomore to finish it off.
“Obviously those free throws hurt, but I think with us being solid on defense and we gave up a tough offensive rebound,” Elleby said. “But we were solid on defense through it, and we stayed solid and we helped each other on the drives, and we had each other’s backs on defense. So I think that gave us the opportunity to have the ball and put it in at the end.”
The Cougars forced a Pac-12-high 21 turnovers and limited Remy Martin, the conference’s leading scorer, to just two points in the second half and 12 total. Martin finished just 4 of 15 from the field and 1 of 4 from the free-throw line.
Bonton and Elleby were superb in the second half, helping the Cougars restore their lead after a 10-0 run allowed the Sun Devils to erase the 15-point deficit and tie things at 51-51. Bonton made two free throws, Elleby cashed in from the three-point line, Bonton lined up two more jumpers and Pollard converted a layup, putting WSU back up by nine points.
“It started from a defensive standpoint, but I think we did a better job when we slowed the ball down,” Bonton said. “They’re a team that wanted to speed us up and get us into turnovers, quick shots and everything. That’s what they did to get back against Arizona, and that’s what they did tonight. I feel like I didn’t do a great job of controlling the ball, but as a team effort, we always get out and run … we did a good job of knowing when to go and when to slow down.
“We definitely did a good job of slowing down at the end when we definitely could’ve got out of hand.”
Bonton finished with 12 points, seven assists, six rebounds, five turnovers and four steals for the Cougars. Jervae Robinson and Noah Williams each had four steals.
WSU (13-9, 4-5) takes the floor again on Saturday at 5 p.m., hosting Arizona (13-6, 3-3) on the Pac-12 Networks.