Playing in the 7th-place game at the 2015 Diamond Head Classic was not the position that both the Washington State Cougars and the New Mexico Lobos had envisioned for themselves before the event kicked off. But, after losing their first two games of the tournament, that was the scenario that they found themselves in.
The Lobos and the Cougars kicked off a four-game slate in the college basketball world on Christmas Day, and both teams were given a perfect opportunity to score a big win and get back on track before they made the trip back to the mainland.
With both teams coming off back-to-back losses, they were trying to salvage any sort of positives in their finale. With 7th place on the line, the Cougars came out firing and got big performances from their star players when they needed it.
Five players scored in double-figures, and Josh Hawkinson and Ike Iroegbu recorded double-doubles to lead Washington State to the 82-59 victory.
Iroegbu got the Cougars on the board with a jumper in the opening 10 seconds of the game, and Tim Williams responded for the Lobos shortly thereafter to the tie game at 2-2. Washington State would take the lead on a jumper from Hawkinson at the 19:08 mark, and the Cougars would never trail for the rest of the game.
As the first half wore on, the Cougars would slowly stretch their lead, fending off any attacks from the Lobos in the process.
With just over 6 minutes to play in the opening half, Que Johnson and Charles Callison would connect on back-to-back three pointers to push the lead to 13, at 32-19. A short time later, Derrien King would make 1-of-2 free throws to give the Cougars their biggest lead of the opening half, at 14.
The Lobos would cut into the lead in the closing minutes, making the deficit manageable as the half was coming to a close, but Ireogbu connected on a last-second three-pointer to give the Cougars a 43-34 lead at the break.
In the second half, the Cougars would quickly stretch their lead to 12 points, keeping the Lobos off the scoreboard for over two minutes in the process. A jumper from Elijah Brown kicked off a 10-0 run for the Lobos, cutting the deficit to just 46-44 with plenty of time left on the clock.
Washington State let the Lobos get close to taking the lead, but they wouldn’t give up their stranglehold on the game. The Cougars went on a 17-2 run of their own to push their lead to 63-46, highlighted by 10 points from Hawkinson.
As quick as the Lobos built up momentum, the Cougars came and took it all right away.
Over the last 8 minutes of the game, the Lobos wouldn’t get closer than 16 points, and the Cougars put things on cruise control from then on out. When all was said and done, Washington State put an end to their two-game losing streak with an 82-59 win over the New Mexico Lobos, taking home 7th Place in the Diamond Head Classic in the process.
On the Lobos’ side of the ball, Cullen Neal only played 8 minutes on the afternoon, recording 0 points on 0-of-3 shooting and committing 5 turnovers. Tim Williams scored a team-high 16 points, while Elijah Brown added 15 points and 7 rebounds of his own in the loss.
For the Washington State Cougars, five different players scored in double-figures, and Hawkinson and Iroegbu each recorded double-doubles. Hawkinson scored a game-high 19 points to go along with 10 rebounds and 4 assists, while Iroegbu added 17 points and 11 assists in the victory.
Valentine Izundu (10 points), Charles Callison (10 points), and Que Johnson (14 points) all reached double-figures in the win.
The loss marked the fourth-straight defeat for the New Mexico Lobos (7-6). The current streak that the Lobos are on will leave some scratching their heads, as the Lobos have a season-series sweep of the New Mexico State Aggies and a win over the Northern Iowa Panthers under their belts so far this season. When they return to the mainland, they will look to put an end to their losing streak when they take on the Nevada Wolfpack on December 30th to open up conference play.
As for the Washington State Cougars (8-4), the win put an end to their mini two-game losing streak, and gave them some positives to take from Hawaii. The overall team performance on Friday afternoon has to give the team some added confidence as they move towards the new year and the start of Pac-12 play. The Cougars open up conference play on New Year’s Day against the USC Trojans.