FULLERTON, Calif. — Malachi Flynn is Washington State’s only returning starter, so naturally he wanted the ball with the game on the line.
Flynn hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 5 seconds remaining, lifting WSU to a 75-71 victory over Saint Joseph’s after the Cougars rallied from a 20-point first-half deficit in the opening round of the Wooden Legacy on Thursday.
Flynn didn’t have a good game, with just nine points, two assists, one turnover and zero rebounds. Coach Ernie Kent sat him down for a long stretch before the sophomore returned and hit a deep 3-pointer that put the Cougars up 56-55.
Then Flynn called a play in the final seconds, and Kent was willing to trust him.
“This team has tremendous moxie,” the coach said.
Robert Franks scored 19 points and Viont’e Daniels added a career-high-tying 17 points for the Cougars (4-0), who earned their third comeback win of the season. They outscored the Hawks 51-33 in the second half using a 1-3-1 zone.
“We have confidence in ourselves coming in the second half knowing we can dig ourselves out of the hole,” Franks said. “This is going to make us that much better down the road.”
Shavar Newkirk led Saint Joe’s with 24 points, but he turned the ball over with 2.5 seconds left and he missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
The Cougars made a season-high 16 3-pointers — two over their average — and were led by Daniels who sank 5 of 6. Flynn and Carter Skaggs had three each. Skaggs’ streak of 10 straight made 3-pointers ended.
The Hawks made 10 3-pointers, getting four from Newkirk, but coach Phil Martelli wasn’t happy.
“When you walk out of here shooting 34 3s, that’s not our game,” he said. “We started indiscriminately putting the ball in the air.”
Saint Joe’s took a 36-16 lead in the first half after a 23-0 run. The Cougars missed 10 straight shots over a 6½-minute stretch and eventually trailed 38-24 at halftime.
“It’s hard to play teams when you’re turning it over and you can’t defend the drive,” Martelli said. “That was an aggressive basketball team.”
Washington State played like a different team in the final 20 minutes, making 10 3-pointers.
After Franks hit a 3-pointer, Newkirk made four straight free throws to pull Saint Joe’s into a 69-all tie.
Franks made a free throw and missed the second for a 70-69 lead. Newkirk’s two free throws gave the Hawks (2-2) their last lead at 71-70.
Flynn tossed up the go-ahead 3 with the shot clock winding down and Daniels made two free throws to seal the win with 2 seconds left.
Newkirk’s 14 3-point attempts tied a tournament record. The Cougars set a tourney record with their 16 3s, bettering the 14 that Saint Louis and Santa Clara had in 2011.
F Charlie Brown Jr. is missing the tournament with a broken left wrist and he could be out the Hawks’ next two games as well. G Lamarr Kimble is out for the season after reinjuring a bone in his left foot. He originally hurt it in February, had surgery and missed the final seven games of last season.
Playing on Thanksgiving hasn’t worked out well for the Hawks. They also lost on the holiday to Western Kentucky in the 2014 NIT Season Tip-Off.
The Cougars came in averaging 48.3 points in the second half compared to just 28.3 in the first.
Saint Joseph’s: Moves on to play Harvard in the consolation round on Friday.
Washington State: Advances to face No. 21 Saint Mary’s in the championship bracket on Friday.