PULLMAN — Minutes prior to the beginning of Washington State’s 59-50 win over Fresno State on Sunday, a reasonable person could have wondered why so many fans chose to stay home just days after WSU’s thrilling effort in a close loss to Gonzaga.
As it turned out, they didn’t miss much.
The Cougars (6-4) at least were winners in the process, though it took Fresno State (5-4) shooting 30 percent from the field and missing all but two of its 20 attempts from 3-point range for WSU to overcome its 17 turnovers and lack of offensive contributors not named Brock Motum or Mike Ladd.
So, yeah. The 2,651 who showed up to Beasley Coliseum for this rare Sunday afternoon game weren’t exactly treated to a clinic. But WSU will take the win, especially after its sluggish start.
“I thought first half, we were pretty bad,” WSU coach Ken Bone said. “And the second half we were better.”
Motum is exempt from Bone’s first-half assessment. And he’s just about the only one. Motum, who scored 15 of his game-high 23 points before halftime, was the only WSU player who scored during the final 14 minutes of the first half.
Ladd came around in the second half and wound up with a WSU career-high 19 points against his former team — he scored 22 in a game against New Mexico State during his freshman year at Fresno State — but if not for Motum’s team-on-his-back effort in the first half, the Cougars’ halftime deficit would have been much worse than 25-24.
Ladd and Motum made 15 of 24 field-goal attempts. The rest of the team hit five of 22.
“Brock once again kind of bailed us out with his scoring,” Bone said.
Motum said he had “no idea” that nobody else scored during that final stretch of the half.
“I’m just aggressive all the time,” Motum said. “My teammates put me in great positions to be successful. I’m just really thankful for my teammates. If I’m in the position to score, I’m going to score.”
The Bulldogs had trouble with that part. WSU defended the perimeter well, content to watch FSU fail again and again from 3-point range. When the Bulldogs got the ball inside to 6-foot-11 freshman center Robert Upshaw — a highly recruited player WSU pursued — they had greater success.
Upshaw made five of 10 field-goal attempts, scored 10 points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked six shots, but the Bulldogs settled for jumpers rather than trying to pound the ball inside. They finished with three assists and 14 turnovers.
“He’s a big guy. He’s a tough matchup for us down there,” Motum said of Upshaw. “We don’t have the size that he has. He’s pretty raw but he has a lot of potential and I think he’s going to be a pretty good player.”
WSU’s inability to take care of the ball allowed the Bulldogs to hang around. The score was tied 45-45 with Ladd made a 3-pointer with 6:01 remaining to give the Cougars the lead for good.
Ladd, whose point-guard duties have increased the past couple of games, also made an acrobatic layup while being fouled to give WSU a four-point cushion with 2:58 to play. Motum added a bucket shortly after, and the Cougars led by six or more the rest of the game.
“This was a game some guys were cold (who) I usually find, and the guys that usually score,” said Ladd, who transferred from Fresno State after the 2009-10 season. “So I felt like we had to be more aggressive. Especially after seeing the first half, nobody was really being that aggressive except Brock.”
“Ultimately, I’d love to see 10 guys each score eight points,” Bone said. “That makes us harder to guard and less predictable. But it’s not an equal opportunity thing. So we go to our best players, maybe to a fault.”
You can’t fault Motum or Ladd, at least.