SAN JOSE, CALIF. - Washington beat Marquette at its own game Thursday. The Golden Eagles had stormed into the NCAA tournament as a team that knew how to survive close games at crunch time - winning seven of its previous games decided by five points or fewer.
The Golden Eagles had stormed into the NCAA tournament as a team that knew how to survive close games at crunch time – winning seven of its previous games decided by five points or fewer.
Then 11th-seeded UW and sixth-seeded MU found themselves locked in the closest possible contest for the highest of stakes: tied in the last half-minute with the difference between playing on or going home hanging in the balance.
But in those frenzied final seconds, it was the Huskies who negotiated the thrilling path to an 80-78 victory that sends them into the second round against New Mexico, a 62-57 winner over Montana, at approximately 3 p.m. Saturday.
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“Couldn’t be prouder,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “Marquette is battle-tested in these situations. ... So to finish that way and, again, beat a team that has done so well in those types of games, I think it speaks volumes about our team; but also where our team is now as opposed to six, seven weeks ago.”
The Huskies shoe-horned a lot of thrills into those final seconds at HP Pavilion: an offensive rebound after an Isaiah Thomas miss, clearing out for senior Quincy Pondexter, watching their senior captain put them ahead with a drive down the lane with 1.7 seconds left, and then enduring what seemed to them an unending final second as Marquette’s last-gasp desperation heave drew rim but didn’t drop.
There is a reason it’s called March Madness.
“We’re a comeback-type team,” junior guard Venoy Overton said. “We’re up, we’re down. Just never give up on us because we’ve just got that attitude where we’re never going to give up.”
Appropriately enough, the game followed the same script as this whole UW season: strong start, wobble in the middle, strong surge at the end.
Both teams set a torrid pace early without being able to shake the other.
Marquette led 43-42 at halftime. But then the Golden Eagles opened the second half with a 17-3 run.
When UW called a timeout to try to stop the bleeding, the Huskies huddled under a scoreboard that showed Marquette up, 60-45, just 14 minutes from the end of somebody’s season.
Romar used the opportunity to challenge his team.
“(He said) we’ve got to man up,” junior Matthew Bryan-Amaning said. “Like the media had been saying, they were showing that they were tougher than us right there. We know this is not how we play, so we had to bring it together and stay together as a team.”
The Huskies began chipping away. A layup by Thomas ended a drought of more than 5 minutes without a field goal. Now, it was time for Washington’s run: a layup by Pondexter, a layup by Venoy Overton, a well-timed 3-pointer by Elston Turner.
With just over two minutes remaining, the teams tied for the final time, 78-all, on a pair of Overton free throws.
Those two minutes ticked down scorelessly until Pondexter won it. He began his final drive with the clock showing single digits. He muscled through a bump, lifted, sent the ball off the glass, and watched the final basket of the game slip through the net.
“I played horrible in the first half, and my teammates stepped up and played great basketball,” Pondexter said. “Isaiah knocked down shots in the first half. Elston played phenomenal in that second half. As a senior, you don’t want that to be your last game. You don’t want to end on a sour note, and I had to step up for our team to win.”
By the end, all those contributions added up for the Huskies: Thomas had 19 points, Pondexter 18, Turner 14, Bryan-Amaning 11, and Justin Holiday and Overton eight each. Washington shot 54.5 percent for the game, and 64.3 on 3-pointers.
The Golden Eagles were almost as hot: 52.9 percent from the field and 63.2 from beyond the arc.
They were led by Lazar Hayward’s 20 points in his final college game.
“The problem with playing so many close games is it’s fun when you win them,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. “And it’s really hard when you lose them.”