PULLMAN — D.J. Shelton has been telling his coach he can shoot. For about a year now.
And gradually, Ken Bone started to believe him.
So maybe Bone wasn’t as surprised as the rest of the 4,791 at Beasley Coliseum last night when Shelton held the ball near the top of the key, then sank a key 3-pointer late in Washington State’s 64-55 win over Idaho.
Shelton, who tied his career-best with 14 points, scored seven of those in the final 3:02, including that 3-pointer that pushed WSU to a 56-51 lead after the Vandals (1-4) had trimmed the Cougars’ lead from 13 to 2.
“I found a good look, and shot it with confidence,” said Shelton, who before the game had made 3 of his 6 attempts from 3-point range this season. “My teammates know I can shoot and coach had faith in me shooting it.”
Everyone else seemed to hold their breath as Shelton held the ball, shot clock ticking down, WSU leading by just two points with three minutes remaining.
Shelton released and found the bottom of the net, his second 3-pointer of the game splashing home to swing momentum back WSU’s way.
“I didn’t think D.J. Shelton could beat us from three,” said Idaho coach Don Verlin, an honest assessor of basketball if ever there was one. “But he did tonight.”
“The way he was playing this evening, I was fine with him looking for his shot,” Bone said. “I liked the fact that he was confident enough to shoot it.”
WSU had built its lead to 51-38 thanks to a 12-3 run fueled by eight points from Brock Motum, who led all scorers with 26 points against a number of different defenders.
But the Vandals stormed back thanks to 3-pointers by Matt Borton, Connor Hill and Mike McChristian, the last of which brought Idaho within two points at 53-51 with 3:39 remaining.
Then Shelton took over.
First, he knocked down the 3-pointer. And two possessions later, with WSU still up by five, Shelton drove past his defender, maneuvered his way toward the rim and laid the ball up softly off the glass to extend WSU’s lead to seven.
After Idaho responded with a basket, Shelton took the ball again, unleashed a spin move and dropped the ball in the basket again.
Shelton’s play gave the Cougars (4-3) a grinder of a victory in a style of game Bone hoped they’d be forced to play.
“It was the type of game that we needed,” Bone said. “I was hoping we would play really well, but I was hoping at the end it would be a close ballgame just because we need to play in some close games and learn how to win these.”
That Shelton has emerged as a more reliable scorer is an added bonus. Motum is adept enough at finding ways to score when he’s the lone concern for opponents in WSU’s frontcourt.
But if Shelton can shoot 3-pointers consistently and take the ball to the rim like he did Wednesday night?
“I think it doubles our power in our frontcourt,” Motum said. “There’s two threats inside. D.J.’s shown he can stroke it from the perimeter and also take it off the bounce. It’s hard to guard guys like that.”
It was for Idaho.
“It was just something I worked on over the summer, and we talked about it last year,” Shelton said. “And I came in and proved it to (Bone) and showed him, and he’s been giving me confidence to shoot it.”