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Roberts leads Washington State past Santa Clara 63-50 in NIT

Mar 15, 2022

PULLMAN, Wash. - For the first time since 2011 the Cougs took home a postseason victory as Washington State (20-14) slugged its way past Santa Clara (21-12), 63-50, in the opening round of the 2022 National Invitation Tournament Tuesday night at Beasley Coliseum. In a clash of styles pitting the Cougs' stifling defense against the Broncos high-powered offense it was the WSU's length and athleticism that won out, smothering Santa Clara for 40 minutes en route to their fifth NIT opening win in six tournament appearances.

From the outset the Cougs poured it on defensively, holding the Broncos to just 23 points in the opening half thanks to a swarming perimeter defense anchored in the paint by their trio of bigs. When the Broncos were able to get penetration the young towers of Efe Abogidi, Dishon Jackson, and Mouhamed Gueye were there to take turns swatting away shots as WSU recorded seven first half blocks on their way to a school NIT record 10 blocks in the contest.

While the offense played second fiddle to the Cougs' defense, it was sharpshooter Tyrell Roberts who put the team on his back early scoring 12 of his 23 points in the opening half including four from distance. It was back-to-back triples from Roberts that turned the game for WSU as he ended a four-minute scoring drought midway through the first half to flip a one-point deficit into a 22-17 lead with just under seven to play. The Cougs would never trail the rest of the way as Roberts canned his fourth three-pointer of the half with just over one minute to play to give WSU a two-possession edge at the break.

Out of halftime it was more of the same for the Cougs as the defense ramped up once again allowing just two points through the first four minutes of the new period while extending the lead to double-digits. The Broncos would never get it closer than seven the rest of the way as Abogidi took the reins of the offense down the stretch, even drilling the dagger three from the corner with 2:04 to play that ended any thoughts of a late comeback for Santa Clara. He finished the half with nine points to give him 13 for the game to go along with five rebounds and three blocks.

In all, Roberts finished the contest with a game-high 23 points including drilling seven three-pointers, a career high and a Coug NIT record from distance. 

On the other side of the ball, Jalen Williams scored 19 points and grabbed 15 rebounds for Santa Clara while Josip Vrankic added 19 points and 10 rebounds. The 50 points on 30.0% shooting were a season low for the Broncos as the rest of the Santa Clara roster combined for just 12 points on 5-of-31 shooting.

The Cougs await the winner of SMU/Nicholls State to determine their opponent as well as the location and date of their second round matchup.