BOISE, Idaho (AP)—Since Tony Bennett took over at Washington State last year, the Cougars have lost only twice when trailing at the half.
Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver wouldn’t let it happen a third time Tuesday night.
Low and Weaver combined to shoot 10-of-12 in the first 8 1/2 minutes of the second half against Boise State. The scoring barrage quickly erased a six-point halftime deficit and fueled a 33-12 run during that stretch that paved the way for an 86-74 victory for the No. 9 Cougars (2-0).
Low scored 24 of his 26 points in the second half. Weaver finished with 19.
“That’s what good teams do,” Low said of the Cougars second-half surge. “We needed to get that (first half) out of our system and I’m glad we did. We came out soft. In the second half, we carried the game and made plays when we needed to.”
Did they ever.
The Cougars shot 56.3 percent for the game, but turned it up a notch in the second, hitting 61.5 percent from the field and 6-of-10 from behind the 3-point arc.
Trailing 32-26 at the break, Low hit his first 3-pointer in the first minute, then followed it up by converting a three-point play and two more 3-pointers, the last tying the game at 41 with 16:15 to go.
After Aron Baynes sank a pair of free throws, Weaver scored on consecutive possessions, each time driving the lane aggressively, to put the Cougars in front 48-41 at the 14-minute mark.
The defense also clamped down, forcing six turnovers in the opening minutes and frustrating the Broncos (1-1) into a series of bad shots.
The Cougars, led by four starters from a team that won 26 games last season, held double-digit leads the rest of the way, improving to 4-2 overall against Boise State.
Anthony Thomas led the Broncos with 18 points and three assists, and Reggie Larry had 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Boise State, trying to avenge a last-minute loss against Washington State last season, played inspired basketball early. At one point, the Broncos led 21-8, thanks to cold Cougar shooting and some careless ballhandling that led to easy Bronco layups on the other end.
In the second half, the Broncos seemed confused and lacking the intensity they showed in the first 20 minutes. Overall, the Broncos shot 50.9 percent, made 7-of-18 3-pointers and outrebounded the Cougars 33-25.
Bronco coach Greg Graham praised his team’s effort, but said the turnaround signaled the glaring absence of a team leader.
“I think we showed that when we play (hard) we’re awfully good,” said Graham, now in his sixth year at Boise State. “We need that leadership to step up, and that’s the thing we need to look for a little bit.”
Washington State also got 18 points from Daven Harmeling, who scored the Cougars’ final eight points in the first half that helped cut a 12-point Bronco lead in half before the break. Taylor Rochestie also chipped in 12 points and seven assists.
Harmeling said the game provided a valuable early-season lesson on playing with intensity and focus no matter the opponents’ record.
“We can’t walk around like fat cats, thinking we’re better than them, which isn’t true if we don’t bring” our best game, Harmeling said. “We got pumped up at halftime and came out pretty strong.”
Thomas, who had 13 points in the first half, set the tone for the Broncos early, scoring nine in the first 10 minutes. Twice he stepped in front of Cougar passes and raced down the court for easy baskets, and his 3-pointer at the 10:58 mark put the Broncos up 19-8.
Washington State played sloppy early and seemed flustered by the Broncos’ stingy half-court defense. The Cougars missed easy baskets, had eight turnovers allowed the Broncos to steal the ball six times the first 16 minutes.
Then Harmeling took control in the final five minutes, scoring eight of his 13 first-half points, including a lay-in just before the buzzer to grab momentum heading into the locker room.