Wil Jones, basketball coach at the University of the District of Columbia, didn't waste any time explaining why the Firebirds were soundly defeated tonight in the first round of the McDonald's Basketball Classic at Henry Levitt Arena.
UDC was beaten, 100-76, before a capacity crowd of 10,666 and Jones said his players' inability to react to crowd pressure was a big reason why. "We go up (8-2) early," said Jones. "Then we start missing some easy shots. I mean easy shots. We started letting the crowd get to us. The guys wanted to show they were good players, but they tried too hard.
"In my mind, there was no doubt we could beat this team."
The Firebirds will now meet Pepperdine, 73-72 losers to Cincinnati, Saturday at 7 before heading home.
UDC forgot it was just a Division II team early against WSU, ranked fourth in the nation by the Associated Press. But then WSU scored 11 straight points to turn a 8-2 deficit into a 13-8 advantage and led the rest of the way.
Down, 51-35, at the half, UDC pulled within 11 points, 51-40, early in the second period. Then WSU's Antoine Carr scored the Shockers' next eight points while all UDC could answer with was a pair of baskets by Kenny Payne.
Earl Jones was sensational in the second half for the Firebirds, scoring 22 his game-high 30 points. He scored almost at will in the final 10 minutes, but it did little good.
Coach Jones said he changed his team's offense in the second half in an effort to isolate 6-foot-7 Michael Britt and the 7-foot Jones. "We went to a triangle offense to try and create some things but then we started making mistakes," said the coach. "This is an excellent team we played. They've got great size and have so many people."
Two other UDC players scoring in double figures were Britt with 23 and Payne with 14. Britt also had a team-high 12 rebounds, but the Firebirds were out rebounded, 52-33.
"They're a good ball club that keeps coming at you," said WSU Coach Gene Smithson of UDC. "They never quit. They are going to win a lot of games this year."
UDC fell to 2-1. WSU is 2-0.