PROVO, Utah – With a trip to New York and Madison Square Garden on the line, Washington State (22-14) left little doubt in the battle of the Cougars downing BYU (24-11), 77-56, Wednesday night in the quarterfinals of the NIT. The win propelled the Cougs to the tournament’s semifinals for the second time in program history and the first time since 2011.
While he may have started slow, fifth-year guard Michael Flowers put together one of the best single game performances in postseason history for the true Cougs, scorching BYU for 27 points, the second-best scoring performance all-time for WSU in NIT play. In addition to Flowers excellence, the Cougs’ offensive night was bolstered by the dominance of Dishon Jackson in the paint as the second-year center anchored things early keeping BYU from running away with the game early as WSU attempted to find its footing.
From the outset it looked like the Cougs would be in for a long night in the mountains as early foul trouble and a lid on the rim put WSU in catchup mode in the game’s opening minutes. Yet, with all the troubles for the Cougs, BYU was never able to create any meaningful separation as Jackson powered the attack in the paint while the defense rallied to give the team enough time on the offensive end to zero-in. While the shooters took their time to find their shooting stroke Jackson needed no time to warmup as the 6-10 center netted eight of WSU’s first 14 points keeping the Cougs within sight of BYU which led 18-14 as the clock ticked towards the nine-minute mark in the first half.
The first three of the game for Flowers came moments later while Jackson’s close-range jumper put the Cougs ahead for the first time on the night 19-18 with 8:22 to play. After falling behind for what would be the final time in the game the Cougs closed the half on a 16-2 run as Flowers caught fire for the first time scoring nine of the 16 for WSU to put the Cougs’ ahead by nine at the break.
Despite taking all the momentum into the lockerroom the Cougs found themselves in a fight early in the second half as the opening minutes of the new frame played out almost identically as the first few minutes of the initial 20 had earlier in the night. Six quick fouls against the Cougs put BYU in the bonus just five minutes into the half as WSU saw its lead cut to just three with 13:02 to play igniting a raucous Marriot Center crowd.
Even with the noise at a fever pitch the Cougs would not fold under the pressure looking to its veteran backcourt to quiet the crowd. Held down for the first three-quarters of the contest, junior Tyrell Roberts broke free with a quick 8-0 run of his own in just over one minute of game action to push the Cougs’ lead back to double-digits with 11:42 to play where it would remain the rest of the game. He would add a three later that pushed the lead to its largest of 23 with minutes to play as Roberts finished the half with 11 points.
The true dagger of the night came just moments after Roberts run when Flowers buried his record-setting three from the corner, drawing contact on the shot to finish with a 4-point play and snuff out any and all hope for BYU. The four-point play was the first of 13-straight points for Flowers who ended his night with a little under two minutes to play in the game as both teams went to their benches to close out the game.
The duo of Roberts and Flowers personal 21-7 run with the game on the line broke the spirit of BYU and the 11,148, minus the handful of WSU fans, in attendance and gave WSU its 13th double-digit win of the season.
With the win the Cougs head to New York and Madison Square Garden where they will face Texas A&M in the semifinals of the NIT. The Aggies advanced behind a 67-52 win over Wake Forest earlier in the evening. The two will face off Tuesday, March 29 at 9:30 pm ET on ESPN2 following the first semifinal matchup that will pit St. Bonaventure against Xavier for the right to play in the championship game Thursday night.
COURTESY WASHINGTON STATE ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS