WSU Cougars men knock out BYU to advance to NIT semifinals

In 2011, a Washington State team led by record keeper Klay Thompson advanced to the NIT semifinals.

In 2022, a Coug team led by record keeper Michael Flowers returns to Madison Square Garden.

Flowers broke Thompson’s single-season program mark for three points in a terrific performance Wednesday night in the NIT Men’s Quarterfinals, racking up 27 points to lift WSU to a 77-58 rout of BYU in a hostile environment at the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah.

“It’s an incredible achievement, but obviously I’m still trying to win this ring, win everything,” Flowers said. “Klay Thompson, he’s an amazing shooter, one of the best shooters the game has ever seen. It’s just nice to see my name next to his. Respect to Klay, and let’s move on.

The Cougs (22-14) will make their second NIT semifinal appearance when they meet Texas A&M at MSG in New York on Tuesday.

Flowers finished 11 of 20 from the field and 4 of 10 from distance, adding five assists after a slow start. Michigan’s primary point guard has been a year-round stabilizing presence for a new WSU team, and he’s been at his best in one of the program’s most important competitions in recent memory.

Flowers, a freshman Coug, had 13 straight points — including his WSU record 99th of the season — in a game-changing streak midway through the second half.

The Cougs led by just three points with 13 minutes remaining, but the advantage had increased to 17 with 7:00 on the clock after Flowers capped his scoring streak with a steal and a transition layup. They sailed from there, with their sights on MSG.

Smith interrupted his postgame radio show to sing Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” A locker room video went semi-viral after the game. It showed a shirtless Smith dancing in a circle of jubilant Cougs, who were spraying water in the air and pushing the third-year boss.

“I just played probably our best game of the year in our biggest game of the year, so that’s really exciting,” said Smith, still drenched in celebration while speaking with members of the media. “They have good makeup. They love each other and that always helps. They sing before, during and after. We are having fun. … They stay loose on the road. We’ve been good that way.

The third-year coach gave Flowers much of the credit for the WSU playoff push. The regular vet has kept the Cougs level in their NIT three-game winning streak — all comfortable wins.

“He’s a pro when it comes to his work ethic and coming every day, getting better and his mindset,” Smith said of the career-starting South Alabama transfer. in Western Michigan. “He’s a guy with a complete growth mindset. He sees challenges, strives to be the best he can be. He’s got a really strong will and a strong belief. I just feel like he was the big key for us to play very well throughout the sequence.

“Our last three games have been our biggest wins of the year, and you want to play your best in March. It’s always nice to play at this time of year. It just helps our program, and there played an important role.

Murderous center Dishon Jackson scored 10 of 14 points in the first half and added seven rebounds. Guard Tyrell Roberts contributed 11 points — seven in the second half on a change of momentum — as WSU shot 44% from the field.

The visiting Cougs committed just six turnovers — one in the first half — and held BYU (24-11) 3 of 20 from downtown.

They made up for a slow shooting start with a resolute defense and a late rally launched by Flowers. A 12-point buffer slipped in the second half, but WSU limited BYU to just six field goals in the final 9:40.

Big man Fousseyni Traore paced BYU with 16 points and eight rebounds. Guard Alex Barcello added 12 points. Roberts limited Barcello, a standout senior, to 5 of 14 shots.

WSU is in full swing in the playoffs and notched its most impressive season since Thompson — now an NBA superstar with the Golden State Warriors — led the team to the NIT semifinals, where the Cougs fell to Wichita State.

“It means a lot, especially to me,” Flowers said of her appearance in the NIT semi-finals. “It’s my third school, so it means a lot. Obviously I’ve always dreamed of playing March Madness, but the NIT is a big tournament and being able to play in Madison Square Garden is amazing. We want to take full advantage of this, celebrate this moment, but we know we’re not done.”

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