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Instant Reaction: Washington moves on in the NIT

The #5 Huskies held on against #4 Boise after nearly blowing a 12-point lead with 3 minutes to go

NCAA Basketball: Washington at California John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Whether or not you see the NIT as an encouraging point of development for a rebuilding club or a sad consolation prize that furthers the agony of a lost season, there is one fact that cannot be disputed:

The Huskies are moving on.

The fifth seeded Washington Huskies defeated the fourth-seeded Boise State Broncos 77-74 in a thrilling first round game of the NIT on Wednesday night. Washington’s victory was played in front of a home crowd at Alaska Airlines Arena thanks to the fact that Boise is playing host to the opening round of the NCAA tournament starting tomorrow.

Husky fans who showed up at the game - and there didn’t appear to be a whole lot of them - were treated to a series of visual delights not otherwise seen during the regular season. The charcoal grey uniforms (with purple numbers and gold lettering), the extended three point line, the wider lane and and game clock oriented around quarters, not halves, all qualified as “firsts” for the Huskies Men’s team.

On the floor, the Huskies looked like the Huskies we’ve come to know the second half of the season: spotty offense, smothering perimeter defense, and a knack for not giving up control of a game once it is seized—even as the game situations got tight.

Noah Dickerson, Matisse Thybulle, and Jaylen Nowell were the offense for the Huskies, just as they’ve been all season. The UW stars combined for 56 of UW’s 77 total points on a night where offense was in short supply.

The name of the game for UW on this night was defense. The Broncos came into the game as one of the better three-point shooting teams on the nation. Guards Justinian Jessup (47%) and Lexus Williams (43%) had been part of an attack that had generated 299 threes on 39% shooting for the season. The two of them were just 3-16 from three with a total of 11 points thanks in large part to the perimeter defense of Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Matisse Thybulle (4 steals) and reserves Hameir Wright (3 blocks) and Dominic Green.

Even still, the Dawgs had to earn it. Broncos senior Chandler Hutchison was a one-man wrecking crew and single-handedly defied UW’s zone in order to make the game a close one going into the fourth quarter. The Huskies struggled to contain Hutchison’s offense as he beat UW from just about every spot on the floor in a hectic second half that saw the Broncos repeatedly get the game to single-digit and then single-possession deficits. But each time that happened, UW answered with defense and foul shooting.

The Huskies will move on in the tournament and take on St. Mary’s on Monday. The #1 seeded Gaels were perhaps the most controversial of the exclusions from the NCAA tournament. Not only did St. Mary’s finish the season ranked 25th in the nation, but they ended up ranked #28 in the Kenpom rankings, boasted an RPI of 40, won 28 games, and lost just 5 times. But a win over Gonzaga just wasn’t enough to overcome the fact that 24 of their 28 wins came against teams outside of the RPI top 100.

Washington will have its hands full against a Gaels team that is one of the best scoring defense teams in the nation and one that is very efficient on offense. In fact, St. Mary’s averages 77 points per game thanks in large part to a 40% 3-point percentage as a team. The second round game will be played on Monday.

Washington MBB Game Dots

  • The best player on the court tonight was Boise State’s Chandler Hutchison. The senior had 39 points on 10-16 shooting, 4 steals and 14 rebounds. It was his 14th career 20/10 game. About his only mistake on the night was a killer three-point and one foul that he put on Matisse Thybulle with 3:30 to go in the fourth quarter.
  • Much was made about the experiment with quarters (which I thought was great), but I was most interested in the extended three-point line. The Broncos, in addition to being challenged by UW’s zone, definitely struggled with the added distance on threes. UW had similar struggles but were much less affected overall thanks to the fact that they aren’t as reliant on the long ball.
  • Where would UW be without Jaylen Nowell? The Husky freshman really showed off his offensive versatility in the game including a proclivity for the three-ball. Jaylen finished the night 3-5 from down deep on his way to a 25-point night.
  • Washington really did a nice job controlling the game for most of the night. There was a stretch in the third quarter where Boise State seemed to find its own defense (thanks in part to a 1-3-1 zone) to drive a 24-12 advantage for the quarter. It was a typical UW dry spell, but one that the Huskies pulled out of once the fourth quarter got started.
  • Despite a good most-of-the-fourth, the Huskies tried very hard to give the game away when Boise coach Leon Rice went to “extend-the-game” mode. Both Dickerson and Thybulle fouled out as Hutchison fought to keep the Broncos in it. Thybulle made the most egregious mistake, fouling Hutchison on a three-point attempt with four seconds to go and UW up only by five. Hutchison got two of three but then forced a jump ball with two seconds to go before UW staved off the Broncos’ comeback.
  • The Huskies’ offense was not good for most of the night. Much of that can be traced to the ineffectiveness of Dominic Green. The Husky wing really struggled with the three-pointer, going 1-3 from deep with 5 total points. I should note that Dom’s only three was a dagger shot with 1:25 in the fourth to give UW a 7-point lead.
  • Mike Hopkins was very entertaining to watch patrolling the sidelines during this one. To say he was animated would be an understatement.
  • Though he shot just 2-10 from the field and had 5 turnovers, David Crisp had a +/- of 11 on the night. Go figure.