Updated Saturday, December 22, 2012 at 05:27 PM
Frustrated for much of the night by a double-teaming Buffalo defense, Brock Motum came alive just when Washington State needed him most, and WSU survived a stiff challenge by the Bulls, 65-54, Friday night in the Cougar Hardwood Classic at KeyArena.
The teams had a taut battle through the first 33 minutes, at which juncture Motum, the Pac-12's leading returning scorer, took charge.
He made just three of his first 11 field-goal attempts, but then insinuated himself on the game in a big way. First, he hit a three to begin a personal seven-point run for the Cougars, giving them a 48-47 lead. He followed that with two rebound baskets off misses by Dexter Kernich-Drew, one at the foul line, one from the field.
A moment later, WSU had a 53-50 lead with possession, and Kernich-Drew fired a three from deep on the right side. It wasn't exactly what the Cougars were looking for then, but it caught nothing but net, and the Cougars had a six-point lead, their largest since midway through the first half.
A free throw by Will DiIorio and a left-handed, banked runner from Royce Woolridge extended the lead to 59-50 inside the four-minute mark, and the Cougars (8-4) were out of the woods, completing a decisive 13-1 run.
WSU's man-to-man defense showed up in the second half, limiting the Bulls to 20.7 percent shooting on 6 field goals in 29 attempts.
Motum finished with 15 points, and sophomore guard DaVonte Lacy had 19, 14 in the first half.
After a hot-shooting first half, the teams cooled at the outset of the second, traded the lead and then were tied midway through the second half. Illustrating the evenness most of the night, at a timeout with 11:57 left, both teams were shooting 42.9 percent on 15 of 35 field goals.
The Bulls (4-8) made it tough on WSU's bell cow, Motum, doubling the post and contesting him hard.
In the first half, the Cougars showed some of the shooting touch they had lacked in their first 11 games. They'd hit just .315 on threes entering the game, but had four players drain shots beyond the arc in the first half, none hotter than Curtis High product Lacy, whose 14 were built on making four of five shots, all on threes.
It was the Bulls who started promisingly, knocking home their first three shots en route to a 7-0 lead. But Lacy broke the ice for WSU with 17:55 left and the Cougars were quickly in the lead on Motum's trey for an 8-7 lead.
WSU got easy looks against Buffalo's zone, then man-to-man, and briefly, it looked like the Cougars were going to run away after Kernich-Drew, the Aussie reserve swingman, drove for two and then banged a three from the left wing for a 23-12 WSU lead.
At that point, WSU's defense pretty much deserted the Cougars, as Buffalo sank six treys in the final 10 minutes. Guard Tony Watson dropped two in a row to bring the Bulls within one, 35-34, and another three by guard Auraum Nuiriankh nudged Buffalo ahead, 37-35.
There was little to choose between the Cougars and the Mid-American Conference club in the halftime numbers. Each team hit seven of 11 threes, both had 13 rebounds, and there were just seven turnovers combined.
Both clubs are dealing with point-guard deficiencies. The Cougars, after booting former Rainier Beach High guard Reggie Moore from the team, have been relying heavily on another Beach grad, Mike Ladd, to handle some of those responsibilities.
The Bulls, meanwhile, just lost their point guard, Jarod Oldham, to a serious wrist injury in practice last week.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Idaho State @ Washington State, 3 p.m., Pac-12 Networks
ELLEN M. BANNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Washington State guard DaVonte Lacy drives with the ball between two Buffalo players during the first half. Lacy led the Cougars with 19 points, hitting 5 of 7 three-pointers.
ELLEN M. BANNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
WSU's Dexter Kernich-Drew goes to the basket as Buffalo's Javon McCrea tries to stop him.