By Christian Caple The Spokesman-Review
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Both parties insisted the final play set up as they wanted.
Texas A&M wanted the ball in Elston Turner’s hands. And Washington State wanted to switch every screen and had no problem with 6-foot-10 forward D.J. Shelton winding up guarding Turner, whose team trailed by two points as he dribbled atop the key, about 25 feet from the basket as the clock ticked inside of 10 seconds Tuesday.
“I didn’t want to go into overtime,” said Turner, a fifth-year senior who played his first two college seasons at Washington.
Turner was going to get his wish either way when he launched a 25-footer. And the ball found net with 2 seconds remaining, a game-winning 3-pointer that gutted the Cougars in this 55-54 loss that could have put a positive end to an otherwise frustrating trip to Kansas City.
Instead, WSU (2-3) returns home after two losses here in the CBE Classic, the first a blowout to Kansas, the second a much better effort at the Sprint Center that likely leaves them feeling a whole lot worse.
The loss spoiled a breakout game by sophomore guard Dexter Kernich-Drew, who started in place of the injured DaVonte Lacy and led the Cougars with 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range.
“Without Dex hitting some of those 3s, we’re probably not in the game the last minute or two,” WSU coach Ken Bone said.
Probably not. An 11-0 run by the Aggies (4-1) in the first five minutes of the second half – “That was where we won the game, really,” Aggies coach Billy Kennedy said – erased WSU’s 21-16 halftime lead and put Texas A&M ahead 31-26.
A quick layup and 3-pointer by Kernich-Drew on back-to-back possessions tied the game.
“I guess being in the system for the last three years has helped a lot learning Coach Bone’s offense and being with the guys I’ve been with the last three years,” Kernich-Drew said. “I guess I’m just trying to do what I can for the team so we can get wins.”
Another five-point spree by Kernich-Drew with 8:16 left in the game put the Cougars up 44-38. But with Texas A&M rebounding so many of its own misses – the Aggies shot just 36.5 percent but claimed 16 offensive rebounds – WSU couldn’t pull away.
Ray Turner, who led the Aggies with 14 points, made two free throws to put them ahead, 51-50, with 2:34 to go. But again, Kernich-Drew made a 3-pointer to put the Cougars back ahead, 53-51, with 2:01 to go. That was their final field goal.
Ray Turner made one of two free throws with 33.8 seconds left to cut WSU’s lead to one. Then the Cougars had the ball stolen shortly after inbounding, but Elston Turner missed a 3-pointer from the corner and the ball went out of bounds to WSU.
The Cougars couldn’t get the ball in bounds, so they called their final timeout. A long inbounds pass to Brock Motum produced a 3-on-1 break, and Motum dished to Shelton who was fouled at the rim with 17.4 seconds left.
“We just wanted to see what the situation was,” Bone said, “and if we had a good opportunity we wanted to attack the rim.”
Texas A&M called its final timeout after Shelton made the first free throw. He missed the second and the Aggies rebounded.
J’Mychal Reese dribbled to the right side and handed off to Elston Turner, who was guarded by Mike Ladd as he came to get the ball. Kernich-Drew switched briefly to Turner at the handoff, but Shelton switched on to Turner out top after Ray Turner set a screen on Kernich-Drew.
“We did a great job before Turner hit the shot,” Bone said. “We planned on switching everything, and fortunately had a 6-9, 6-10 kid on him and he hit a 25-footer. That’s all I saw. There was no play involved, nothing else.”
Ray Turner was then going to come set a ball-screen for Elston Turner, but the latter said he waved him off because “I didn’t want to bring the guard back into it” after WSU surprised him by switching.
So he surprised them by making just his second shot of the game in 13 tries.
“You put so much into the game trying to win, but we also have to keep in perspective (the) big picture: we played much better tonight,” Bone said. “Even though it wasn’t pretty, we played much harder.”