The Washington Huskies came into Corvallis 6-1 on the year to face a new look Oregon State Beaver team for the Conference Season opener. The Huskies came in confident after 3 straight victories but would ultimately be met with heartbreak after falling to the Beavers 66 to 65, in dramatic fashion as well as potentially losing a key player to serious injury.
Before the game even started, there was already more troubling news that came out with Starting Center Braxton Meah was in a walking boot and unable to play tonight. Coming off a career high game with 18 points and 7 rebounds, this was not the news that Mike Hopkins and Huskies were looking for who are already out Senior Noah Williams with an injury.
For a team that already gets off to slow starts, losing a key player like Meah would not help the situation but Franck Kepnang made his first start of the year and got off to a quick start with an early dunk. The dunk came off of a nice feed from PJ fuller to take an early 4-2 lead. Keion Brooks would also hit his first bucket and a pair of free throws to go with a Cole Bajema three-pointer to take a 9-6 lead. Unfortunately this would be the last lead of the 1st half as the Beavers came roaring back to go on a 20-0 run.
The big run was started when Franck Kepnang appeared to have an open dunk but lost his footing that barely hit rim. This led to a transition layup for Dexter Akanno plus a flopping Technical foul called on Cole Bajema for a non-traditional 3 point play. With the Kepnang missed dunk and the 3 point play, a whole plethora of mistakes and missed shots would be unleashed on the Huskies side that helped Oregon State get out to an 18 point lead.
During that 7 minute stretch, UW went with a few new lineups that included Koren Johnson, Keyon Menifield and Langston Wilson playing in the zone. Koren Johnson, who normally has played at the top of the zone was moved to the corner of the zone and Johnson lost Dmitry Ryuny twice for wide open three-pointers in the corner.
Turnovers and wide open missed shots were also a big part of the 20-0 run that saw a lot of 1 on 1 play and not much ball movement, however the Huskies still had several open shots that would not fall. UW would start 1/10 from 3 in the first 12 minutes.
The Huskies would finally end the bleeding with a PJ Fuller steal that led to a Keion Brooks transition dunk to cut the score to 27-11. Then a few moments later, Keyon Menifield found Keion Brooks again for a Monster dunk who was fouled and completed a 3 point play. The Huskies were able to cut it to 34 to 22 with 4 minutes left, that included a pair of Keyon Menifield 3 pointers but a couple more UW turnovers would let Oregon State extend their lead back to 16.
The Huskies would switch to Man to Man defense in the last 4 minutes but Dexter Akanno was able to score a tough layup. Then on the very next Huskies possession, Freshman Guard Keyon Menifield would throw a pass that was easily intercepted by Dmitri Ryuny for a breakaway dunk. UW would score the next 4 points to go into halftime down 12 at 38 to 26. It seemed like it could have been a lot worse but still down double digits to Oregon State was not the position the Huskies expected to be in.
The 2nd Half Dawgs would make another run
The Huskies came into this game trailing at halftime 5 times this season but have come back to win 4 of those games so it was not a surprise to see Washington make another 2nd half run. The Huskies would start the 2nd half with a 10-2 run to cut the lead back to a 6 point game after being down as much as 18 in the first half.
Freshman Koren Johnson was a catalyst all game but hit some really big shots in the 2nd half to help lead the charge. His first 3 of the game came with 14:33 left to pull within 42 to 39. Then on the next possession, Koren Johnson threw a wrap around pass for an easy Franck Kepnang dunk.
With 11:45 left in the first half, things were starting to trend the Huskies direction down 45-42 and it looked like UW was close to making a big run. UW was able to create a steal but turned it over immediately after, which would be UW’s first turnover of the half. Glenn Taylor would then make UW pay with hitting his first 3 of the game to build the lead back to 6.
Then tragedy happened for the Huskies, when Franck Kepnang went down awkwardly by the baseline and screaming in pain while holding his right knee. The Husky big man who plays with a ton of energy and passion was in agony and had to be helped off the court with 11:03 left in the game.
Already without Braxton Meah, the Huskies had to go small the rest of the way with Langston Wilson and Keion Brooks at the 5. The Beavers would take advantage right away and the Huskies would not score for 6 minutes after Kepnang went down with an injury.
Koren Johnson would break the drought on a three-pointer with 6 minutes left and then would immediately create a steal that led to a PJ fuller layup. 5 quick points under less than 20 seconds, all created by Johnson.
It seemed like the Beavers would pull away again but the Huskies would not go away. With the Beavers up 59-49 with 4 minutes left, the Huskies would go on a 16-2 run to give UW a 3 point lead with 39 seconds left. Jamal Bey would wait until the 40 second mark of the 2nd half to score his first bucket of the game and give Washington their largest lead of the 2nd half at 65-62.
Glen Taylor was fouled with 18 seconds and hit two free throws to pull within 1 and then Keion Brooks was immediately fouled to shoot a 1 and 1. Brooks calmly hit the first but was short on the 2nd attempt that led to a mad scramble for the ball. The scramble led to Oregon State being able to get out on transition and scoring a game tying layup plus a foul on Cole Bajema. The foul seemed highly questionable as on replay it didn’t look like Bajema touched Dexter Akanno but Akanno went on to make the free throw for the Beavers lead with 8 seconds left.
UW would have one last crack that resulted in a Keion Brooks 3 attempt as time expired that rimmed out. The Beavers go on to beat the Huskies in Heartbreaking fashion in Corvallis with a final score of 66 to 65.
Keion Brooks would lead the Huskies with 21 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks and 8/11 shooting but was one free throw short of a potential UW victory. Cole Bajema would finish with 12 points but struggled shooting 2-7 from three. Koren Johnson may have earned player of the game honors for UW with 11 points, 2 assists, 2 steals and drew multiple charges with pesky defense. Koren played really well in the 2nd half and who knows where UW would have been without him.
Ultimately, it would be heartbreak for multiple reasons for the Huskies. Losing a late lead was painful enough but losing the emotional leader in Frank Kepnang for the Huskies, potentially long term, could be devastating for Washington. We will have to see what reports come out but it did not look good for Big Franck.
The Huskies will have to shake off the loss and prepare for another conference game against the Colorado Buffaloes this Sunday at Alaska Airlines Arena at 12 pm.