PULLMAN — During the preseason, Washington State men’s basketball coach Kyle Smith had called new guard Tyrell Roberts a “walking bucket,” a player who could put up points in a hurry and single-handedly shift a game’s momentum if he got the hot hand.
After a scoreless first half, Roberts caught fire.
The junior transfer poured in 11 of his 15 points in the first seven minutes of the second half, sparking the Cougars to a 71-54 runaway win over Utah on Wednesday night at Beasley Coliseum.
Roberts shot 0 of 6 before intermission, but he got in a groove right out of the locker room, swishing a three from the wing. He knocked down two more from NBA range, then took a defender’s ankles when he spun and weaved inside for a short jumper.
Forward Andrej Jakimovski added a triple and post Mouhamed Gueye hammered home a dunk during WSU’s onslaught early in the second.
The Utes’ eight-point halftime deficit quickly became 24. Utah (8-13, 1-10), clearly dazed by the Cougs’ sudden offensive rally, forced shots and threw away possessions.
WSU (11-7, 4-3) bounced back from a sloppy first half on offense and improved their efficiency in the second. The Cougars collected a season-best 19 takeaways and controlled the glass, logging 18 offensive rebounds.
Roberts, a former All-American at Division II UC San Diego, went 5 of 9 from the field after the half. Jakimovski contributed 15 points and eight rebounds while guards TJ Bamba and Noah Williams tallied 10 points apiece. Posts Gueye and Efe Abogidi combined for 14 points and 14 boards.
The Cougars hadn’t played a game in 11 days due to COVID-19 protocols in their program. They had only conducted two team practice sessions since their season was put on pause Jan. 18.
WSU began to separate late in the first half despite its shaky shooting throughout much of the period. The Cougs connected on just six of their first 20 field-goal attempts, but capitalized on extra possessions, forcing 13 turnovers and snaring eight offensive boards in opening up an 11-point lead about a minute before the break.
They shot 33% from the floor in the opening half against Utah’s 47% mark. Percentages can be deceiving, though. WSU attempted 17 more field goals in the first than the Utes, who managed just eight field goals. Overall, the Cougars went 24 of 65 and the Utes finished 18 of 46.
Williams and Jakimovski combined to drain their first five field-goal attempts and scored the Cougars’ first 12 points. No other WSU players got on the board until 11 minutes had passed.
WSU had a languid start on defense, but tightened up midway through the first, then put forth exceptional effort as the contest progressed.
The Cougars’ offense seemed to find its footing in the last couple of minutes. Gueye hammered home a dunk off a pick and roll from Michael Flowers, who soon after drilled a three. Flowers and Roberts shot a combined 1 of 12 in the first half.