KENNEWICK — The Idaho State Bengals had just completed a first half that solidified their standing as one of the worst NCAA Division I men’s basketball teams in the land when two teams of grade-schoolers engaged in a brief halftime scrimmage at the Toyota Center.
A sideline observer watched the youngsters play for a minute or two, then turned to his companion and deadpanned, “I’ll take the green team by three over Idaho State.”
The Washington State Cougars devoured one last cupcake on their non-conference schedule Saturday, trouncing the truly awful Bengals, 74-39.
The unofficial “home” game, played in the Tri-Cities during the holiday break from classes in Pullman, drew 4,590 on a snowy day.
The Cougars improved to 9-4. They carry a season-best, four-game winning streak into their Pacific-12 Conference opener next Saturday at home against Washington (6:30 p.m., ESPNU).
Cougars coach Ken Bone said he would give his team a grade of “B-plus” for their non-conference performance, but the Cougars have played a number of lowly opponents.
Idaho State, 1-10 and averaging 49 points a game, may be the worst team on WSU’s schedule.
The Cougars, despite spotty play in the first half, led 34-14 at halftime.
The undersized Bengals suffered their 20th straight loss against a Pac-12 opponent by shooting 37.2 percent from the field, getting outrebounded 43-16 (15-2 on the offensive glass), missing eight of nine free throws and taking a 20-0 pounding in second-chance points.
“We have a really hard time scoring,” said Bill Evans, the Bengals’ first-year coach.
WSU senior Mike Ladd, a natural wing who has taken over the bulk of the point guard duties, scored the Cougars’ first eight points. He wound up tying teammate Brock Motum for game-high honors with 17 points, and Ladd led everyone with nine rebounds and two steals.
“Not that all of a sudden he’s Steve Nash or any other great point guard, but he’s done some really good things,” Bone said.
Motum, like many of his teammates, started slowly. The 6-foot-10 forward committed five turnovers (four in the first half) for the second time in three games.
Still, the Cougars eased to their 31st straight win against a Big Sky Conference opponent. Washington State’s last loss to a Big Sky foe came Dec. 18, 1994, at Idaho (now a member of the Western Athletic Conference).
Former Curtis High School star DaVonté Lacy scored 16 points for the Cougars, who shot 49 percent from the field. The 35-point margin of victory and the plus-27 rebounding edge were season bests. The 39 points allowed was one more than the season low against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
The 74 points was WSU’s best showing since an 88-69 win over Eastern Washington in the season opener. The Cougars started the day 11th in the Pac-12 with 63.2 points a game and first in scoring defense at 56.5.
“Defense has been really good,” Motum said.
“If we get stops,” Ladd said, “we’ll get points.”
Swingman Chris Hansen made a game-high four 3-pointers on nine attempts to lead Idaho State with 12 points. No one else scored in double figures for the Bengals, whose lone win came in their only home game (against NAIA Montana Western).
The Bengals had more than twice as many fouls as the Cougars (22-10). WSU guards Dexter Kernich-Drew and Bryce Leavitt left the game in the second half and did not return after flagrant fouls sent them crashing to the floor. Bone said neither player appeared to be seriously injured.