Ernie Kent’s third season as Washington State University’s men’s basketball coach nearly got off to a disastrous start Friday against the Big Sky Conference’s Montana State Bobcats as the Cougars twice led by just one possession in the final 30 seconds of their season-opening, 69-65 victory.
Kent and the Cougs will get a chance to sharpen up during a visit to the Tri-Cities on Tuesday when they take on Central Washington. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at Toyota Center.
This will be the 26th meeting between CWU and WSU, but it’s the first time they’ve played since 1998. The previous meetings were either in Pullman or Ellensburg.
WSU last played in Kennewick during the 2013-14 season, when it beat San Francisco State 80-50.
The Cougars (1-0) are trying to rebound from one of their worst campaigns in team history as they lost 22 games in 2015-16 — tied for second most in program history — and went 1-17 in the Pac-12.
The Wildcats (2-0) went 18-8 last season but lost in the first round of the GNAC tournament. CWU is once again led by senior guard Dom Hunter, who averaged 26.5 points in CWU’s first two games against Cal State-San Bernardino and Cal State-Monterey Bay.
Hunter will match up against a Cougars backcourt that in the opener heavily featured Malachi Flynn, a highly touted freshman guard out of Tacoma’s Bellarmine Prep. Flynn figures to work mostly at point guard for WSU, which will allow senior Ike Iroegbu — a potential superstar talent who is occasionally a bit careless with the ball — to play more at the 2-guard position.
Flynn was a bit shaky in the opener (two assists, five turnovers), but he managed to score 10 points.
While senior forward Josh Hawkinson — on the Abdul-Jabbar watch list for the second consecutive season — will likely be the Cougars’ focal point, Derrien King could provide a huge boost up front. The 6-foot-6 junior was the star for WSU against Montana State with team highs in points (22) and 3-pointers (3-for-6).
Tickets for Tuesday’s game range from $10-$55 and can be purchased through Ticketmaster or at the Toyota Center Box Office. The game will also air on the Pac-12 Networks.