Abdul Gaddy left the game with five minutes remaining because of cramps and didn’t return. Aziz N’Diaye was playing with a large bandage over his right eye. Scott Suggs and Shawn Kemp Jr. are still out with injuries.
The end result was Washington trailing by 14 points at halftime after shooting 30 percent.
But a shift out of the high-post offense and into the motion offense for the second consecutive game, combined with Desmond Simmons’ tenacity and Cal State Fullerton’s mental mistakes, were enough to bail the Huskies out.
The Huskies edged the Titans, 74-72, when C.J. Wilcox hit two free throws with 3.6 seconds remaining. Fullerton’s 3-point heave as time ran out hit the side of the backboard.
“This may have been the biggest win for us of our preseason, because we’re starting to get our team back,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said.
Fullerton apparently is a firm believer it’s better to give than receive. The Titans tied the game on a layup by Alex Harris with 25 seconds left, then Harris immediately fouled Andrew Andrews approximately 92 feet from the Washington basket, putting the Huskies in the double bonus. Andrews made both shots to put the Huskies in front 71-69.
Hikeem Stewart deflected a pass and Andrews came away with the ball on the next possession. He was again fouled, made the first free throw before Washington called its final timeout, then missed the second. Harris came back to hit a 3-pointer with seven seconds remaining.
Then, D.J. Seeley, who torched Washington with a game-high 24 points, fouled Wilcox. Once again, about 90 feet from the Huskies’ basket. That sent Washington’s best free-throw shooter to the line. He hit both.
“I was surprised on the first foul and then they did it again,” Wilcox said. “I was really surprised.”
With Fullerton out of timeouts, Seeley appeared unclear about the game situation.
“I shouldn’t have even tried to get the ball,” Seeley, a transfer from Cal, said. “I tried to be the hero. As a leader and a captain, you’ve got to know the situation.”
Washington’s situation was dire much of the game. After primarily playing a 2-3 zone in the first half, the Huskies switched to man-to-man for most of the second half and spread the floor offensively by going back to its motion offense.
Fullerton fielded a smaller, quicker team against Washington’s high-post offense. The Titans pressured the ball out high, trying to disrupt the Huskies’ initial pass.
“We knew if they were able to run their offense, it would be a blowout,” interim Titans coach Andy Newman said. “It worked for about 22 minutes.”
Washington led 2-0 early, then didn’t lead again until N’Diaye dunked with 2:57 remaining for a 67-65 Huskies lead.
A prime facet of the rally was Simmons’ rebounding ferocity. He finished with 18 rebounds, the most by a Washington player since Jon Brockman had 18 against Purdue in the 2009 NCAA tournament.
“He was just all over the place on the boards,” Romar said.
Much of his work led him and others to the free-throw line, where Washington (4-3) outscored Fullerton, 22-5.
Despite a 3-for-14 first half, Wilcox led Washington with 21 points.
All of which left Romar feeling as if Washington is close to becoming whole. Suggs said he had platelet-rich plasma therapy a week ago to treat the plantar fasciitis injury in his right foot. His pain has been significantly reduced, he’s out of a walking boot and will practice this week. Kemp may also practice this week. Walk-on Quinn Sterling, who was out with a fractured foot, made his Washington debut in the first half and played one minute.
“Somehow we survived, and we’re ready to move on,” Romar said.