SPOKANE — Pac-12 basketball teams play 18 league games, but Washington State coach Ken Bone said he feared an 0-2 start in conference play might prove fatal to the Cougars.
Brock Motum helped calm Bone’s fears by recording team highs of 26 points and eight rebounds in an 81-76 win over Oregon State on Saturday at Spokane Arena.
“If we come out and we’re flat or we just don’t play well, then maybe we aren’t that good,” Bone said. “We kind of put it on our shoulders and put the onus on us as a team and as a staff: ‘Can we get the job done?’ The guys did a nice job.”
DaVonte Lacy scored 18 points for the Cougars (9-5, 1-1 Pac-12), who have won seven of their past eight games.
Jared Cunningham led Oregon State (10-4, 0-2) with 21 points. Backcourt partner Ahmad Starks scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half. Joe Burton added 14 points and seven rebounds.
Bone said Saturday’s game represented “a real test of our character” after the Cougars opened Pac-12 play with a dismal performance Thursday in a 92-75 loss to the Oregon Ducks.
“They came out and smacked us,” said WSU point guard Reggie Moore.
Moore was crucial to Saturday’s win. He handled Oregon State’s pressure defense expertly, making just one turnover in 35 minutes. He also scored eight points and handed out a season-high nine assists.
“He had great composure,” Bone said.
Motum, a 6-foot-10 junior from Australia, worked well inside and from the perimeter. He was 10 of 15 from the field, including 3 of 5 on 3-pointers, and finished one short of his career high of 27 points. Motum scored WSU’s first nine points.
“He’s a competitor,” Bone said. “He understands what was at stake.”
Motum said he shared Bone’s concern about the impact of an 0-2 start in league play. Motum said the Oregon State game represented a “gut check, and I thought we pulled through really well and came together as a team, shared the ball and played the right way. It was fun.”
Washington State led almost all the way, but the Cougars had to deliver at the free-throw line in the final two minutes to clinch the game. Oregon State trailed only 77-74 after Starks hit his fifth 3-pointer with 51 seconds to go.
“We have the ability to fight back,” Starks said. “We showed some toughness, but we need to start earlier.”
Washington State shot 54 percent from the field, including 50 percent (6 of 12) on 3-pointers. Oregon State shot 46 percent.
The Beavers started the day ranked first in the Pac-12 and eighth in NCAA Division I in scoring, averaging 83.2 points per game. The Beavers were leading the league and tied for fourth nationally with 10.1 steals per game. They had 10 more Saturday, including four apiece by Cunningham and Starks.
“Jared’s super fast,” Starks said. “He anticipates a lot of things.