Is Jabe Mullins for real? Three thoughts after WSU smashes Detroit Mercy

Hot shooting once again carried the day.

The Washington State Cougars raced out to a 13-2 lead in the first four minutes of the game and never looked back, demolishing the Detroit Mercy Titans, 96-54.

For the second consecutive game, the Cougs used some ridiculous shooting to subdue their opponent, hitting a school record 19 three-pointers on just 29 attempts for a cool 65.5% out there, leading to an effective field goal percentage of 77.7 — the second highest for WSU since at least 2002, when kenpom.com started keeping records.

The Cougs made 12-of-18 threes in the first half alone en route to a 56-point half that gave WSU a 33-point lead heading into the locker room. Jabe Mullins was the primary assassin, hitting 6-of-7 from behind the arc in the opening period to lead the way with 20 points before intermission, but his backcourt mate Justin Powell did his fair share, as well, making 4-of-6.

Meanwhile, the Titans never really looked like their heart was in the fight, playing their third game in five days. The Cougars kept Antoine Davis — one of the top scorers in the history of college basketball — in check all night, as he scored just 15 points on 6-of-19 shooting, including just 1-of-3 from beyond the arc, where he often can do loads of damage.

The lead reached as high as 49 with two minutes to go following the last of three three-pointers from freshman big man Mael Hamon-Crespin’s — the first of his career.

Mullins led four players in double figures with 22; TJ Bamba added 18 (powered by 4-of-5 shooting from distance), Powell contributed 17 points, seven assists and six rebounds, while Mouhamed Gueye had 10 points and eight rebounds.

Three Thoughts

No Mercy: Yes, I’m the 800th person to make that joke, but in my defense, (A) it’s a good joke, and (B) my god — what an incredible whipping. According to WSU sports information, the 42-point margin of victory is the largest by the Cougs since defeating Central Connecticut State, 104-62 in 1992 and also ties as the 11th-largest victory margin dating back to 1945. The Cougs’ 1.51 points per possession on offense was the second highest in any game since at least 2002 (when kenpom.com started keeping stats).

Given where this team was just 10 days ago, smashing Eastern Washington and Detroit Mercy by a combined 68 points feels awfully good. The beating of the Titans was so thorough that it exceeded kenpom’s prediction by a whopping 30 points and reached 100% win probability with 14 minutes to go in the game.

No, beating a pair of teams ranked in kenpom’s 200s — even as badly as they did — doesn’t erase the stink of that loss to Prairie View A&M, but it at least gives you some hope that what we saw against PVAMU and Boise State were aberrations, and that the hopes we had for the season are still potentially within reach.

Mullins Marksmanship: In the first three games of the year, the starting guard shot just 3-of-11 from distance, leading me to remark after PVAMU that either he or Powell was going to have to pick it up, because you just can’t two starting guards who are that unproductive. Well, they’ve both picked it up, but Mullins has taken it to another level: He’s 14-of-19 from three-point range over the past two games. That’s obviously an unsustainable rate, but it’s another one of those things that makes you think, OK, maybe there’s something here? If he’s somewhere between 3-of-11 and 14-of-19 and that somewhere ends up being north of 40%, that’s a pretty massive development for the offense.

It’s worth noting that some of the shots that Mullins has taken over the past few games have been of the heat check variety, and he just keeps making them. That won’t continue. But most of his attempts have been wide open looks within the flow of the offense — it’s all over the entire highlight package, but this particular possession is borderline pornographic:

When this team’s ball movement is humming, they are very difficult to contend with. Consider:

Now, there can definitely be a chicken/egg element to assist percentage, since you can make a good pass and not have it paid off with a make. But after watching this team for five games, I think these numbers are pretty representative of the fluidity of the offense in each of these contests.

Which begs the question: Are the high assist rates numbers something that are in the Cougs’ control? In other words, are these sexy passing games more about the Cougs or about opportunities presented by opponents’ scheme and talent?

I absolutely believe the baseline level of passing skill on the roster has increased this season, particularly with regards to Powell, who is so good at manipulating defenses. But even Gueye is improving game-by-game with his passes out of the post. Will it be able to sustain against teams with better defenses?

Maybe Boise State, whose defense is superb, is instructive in that regard. Or maybe these guys are just getting used to playing together, and it’s starting to come together.

Dominating defense: A bit of an overlooked development in the offensive explosions of the past two games has been the defense starting to resemble what we’ve gotten used to from Kyle Smith’s squads. WSU held Detroit Mercy to just 0.85 points per possession, the Titans’ second-lowest output this season. They did so by completely frustrating Davis and holding the Titans to just 37% on twos — the second consecutive opponent to shoot less than 40% inside the arc.

This was vintage WSU: Chasing shooters off the three-point line and right into the teeth of the rim protection. The Cougs registered only one block, but the Titans definitely felt the floor close in on them when they ventured toward the rim, as evidenced by their plethora of turnovers, which included seven steals for WSU. Detroit is typically pretty decent at taking care of the ball, and these Cougs haven’t been good at taking it away, but if this is a development back toward turnovers being a mainstay of the defense ... hooo boy, watch out.

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