PULLMAN, Wash. (AP)—Washington State hit 65 percent of its shots from the floor, 72 percent in the first half, yet barely hung on to beat unheralded Portland State on Sunday night.
That fact had coach Tony Bennett shaking his head after Portland State stayed close virtually the entire game. WSU pulled away in the final minutes for a 72-60 win.
“When you shoot that kind of percentage, you should not be in that close of a game,” Bennett said. “Our offense bailed us out. We were not stopping them.”
Aron Baynes scored 23 points, including six slam dunks, and grabbed nine rebounds on his 21st birthday to keep the Cougars (9-0) ahead. He made all nine of his field goal attempts and five of six free throws. He also blocked two shots.
Baynes credited his teammates for attracting defenders away from him.
“They left me wide open,” Baynes said.
Portland State (6-4) could have tried to double team Baynes, but coach Ken Bone didn’t think that would help his smaller team.
“They are so good at what they do they could have solved the double,” Bone said.
That was evident as Baynes’ front court mate, Robbie Cowgill, added 15 points.
The Vikings instead chose to launch 25 3-pointers, making nine to stay close. They also grabbed 11 offensive rebounds.
“I’m proud of our effort,” Bone said.
He praised Washington State for remaining patient on offense. The Cougars made 16 of 22 shots in the first half and 26 of 40 for the game. It was their highest shooting percentage in at least seven years.
Portland State stayed close by making six more 3-pointers than the Cougars, and forcing them into 17 turnovers.
“That was an unalert performance by our guys,” Bennett said, noting his team was coming off an emotional win at No. 17 Gonzaga.
The Cougars, off to their best start since the 1991-92 team opened 12-0, also got 12 points from Nikola Koprivica and 10 points, six assists and five steals from Kyle Weaver.
Deonte Huff led Portland State with 18 points. Jeremiah Dominguez added 15 points for the Vikings, who shot just 40 percent for the game.
Portland State, which lost 69-48 at No. 7 UCLA in its season opener, was much more competitive in this game against a Pac-10 opponent, staying within five points deep into the second half.
Washington State had outscored opponents by 112 points in the second half coming into the game, but they couldn’t mount any major runs against Portland State of the Big Sky Conference.
Portland State trailed by seven points at halftime, but consecutive baskets by Huff and Dominguez cut the deficit to 37-35.
Taylor Rochestie’s 3-pointer and Baynes’ fifth dunk rebuilt a 42-35 lead for Washington State.
But the Vikings hung around, and a basket by Huff and 3-pointer by Alex Teifenthaler cut Washington State’s lead to 49-45 with 10:47 left.
Washington State gradually built a 15-10 run, mostly on free throws, for a 64-55 lead with 3:19 left. The Cougars were able to break the Vikings’ pressure and run out the clock.
In the first, Portland State led 28-27 with less than 2 minutes left before the Cougars scored the final eight points for a 35-28 halftime lead. Baynes had 12 points in the half.
Washington State leads the series 6-0.
Portland State is 4-38 against Pac-10 teams.
“We were fortunate to come away victorious,” Bennett said. “We can never walk by anybody.”