Washington certainly got tested in their first of four straight non-conference games against teams that made the NCAA tournament last year. But the Huskies overcame a poor outside shooting night by converting 22/27 at the free throw line to hold off Northern Kentucky in a 75-67 win. Keion Brooks Jr. led the way for the Huskies with a career high 32 point double-double on 11/16 shooting to move the Dawgs to 2-0.
This was Washington fans’ first real chance to see PG Sahvir Wheeler reunited with former Kentucky teammate Keion Brooks Jr. and they didn’t disappoint. On the first play Wheeler found Brooks up top for a thunderous lob dunk. Washington made 4 of their first 5 shots including a 3-pointer from Wilhelm Breidenbach to get out to an early 11-5 lead and it looked like UW’s slow offensive starts might be a thing of the past.
Unfortunately, Northern Kentucky came to play. The Huskies turned it over on 4 straight possessions as NKU mixed up their defensive look. The Norse blocked 3 shots in just a matter of minutes including a pair of 3-pointers and showed that they had several power conference level athletes inside and on the wing. Washington went on a 5 minute scoring drought that allowed NKU to tie the game before Sahvir Wheeler finally ended the dry spell with a made floater.
That didn’t solve UW’s offensive woes though. Northern Kentucky kept attacking the paint and knocking down floaters and runners over Washington’s bigs. Meanwhile both Anthony Holland and Keion Brooks Jr. airballed three point attempts as part of an 0/8 stretch from behind the arc. Brooks got rejected by Keeyan Itejere on a dunk attempt which led to an NKU layup on the other end and prompted a Mike Hopkins timeout trailing 19-14.
Washington’s defensive issues also persisted as Northern Kentucky had a big beat everyone down the floor and a long pass ahead led to a layup and NKU’s largest lead of the night to that point at 24-18 with 7:20 remaining in the first half.
Sahvir Wheeler helped jump start the Husky offense by driving the ball and making a series of acrobatic layups and floaters. Despite some early shooting struggles from deep, Moses Wood followed suit and got fouled on a layup attempt to give the Huskies back the lead at 27-26. After a fingernail blocked 3 by Koren on defense, Keion Brooks Jr. pulled into a long 2 and swished it through to complete a 9-0 run and prompt an NKU timeout.
With 3 minutes left in the half it looked like the Huskies would pull away when Moses Wood finally got a 3-point shot to fall and it put the Dawgs up 33-28. Northern Kentucky continued to fight. Koren Johnson jumped the lane for a Matisse Thybulle-esque steal attempt but couldn’t quite corral it and the resulting scramble allowed NKU to answer with a 3 of their own.
Wilhelm Breidenbach finally allowed the Huskies some separation in the final minute with a pair of offensive rebounds. The first he kicked out to Keion Brooks Jr. who nailed a 3-pointer. Sahvir Wheeler missed a 3-pointer in the closing seconds but Breidenbach tipped it back in just before the buzzer sounded to go to the half up 41-35.
Itejere continued his stellar game for NKU with an and-1 layup through Brooks to draw NKU within 3 points. Washington’s cutters finally started to find success though as Paul Mulcahy found Moses Wood and Sahvir Wheeler found Keion Brooks Jr. twice for dunks in the next few minutes. The second Brooks dunk prompted an NKU timeout with the Huskies up 49-40. Lob to Itejere defended by Goggles.
Things got disjointed from there as the refs took over the game. Both sides had a few calls go against them and each squad traded free throws with the Husky lead vacillating between about 8-12 points for several minutes. Koren Johnson didn’t notice that every bit of contact was being called and pulled up for a pair of floaters that each missed badly and helped NKU cut it to single digits before the under 12 timeout.
Washington had chances to extend the lead but Sahvir Wheeler committed back-to-back careless turnovers getting called for a carry and catching it with a foot on the line out of bounds prompting Hopkins to take him out. Washington’s offense only succeeded in transition with him on the bench and UW managed to make just enough free throws to keep NKU at bay.
One of the huge breaks of the game happened as the shot clock went off about 0.05 seconds before Paul Mulcahy fouled Itejere on what would’ve been an and-1 dunk. Instead it was a turnover and UW maintained a 64-56 lead. Franck Kepnang entered for the first time in the second half and got a huge block from behind but was called for a technical foul after an emphatic roar and stomp of a celebration gifting NKU a pair of points and stopping a fast break opportunity. He helped make up for it after Paul Mulcahy dished it off to him for a thunderous slam.
Washington’s offense struggled to get across the finish line though. The sloppiness late continued as Paul Mulcahy got trapped on the baseline for a turnover and Sahvir Wheeler twice slipped for travels. Itejere got open on the backdoor cut for a big dunk and kept Northern Kentucky within 2 possessions at 70-64 and 90 seconds left. Moses Wood had an open corner 3 to put the game away but missed it. Fortunately, Northern Kentucky also missed a 3-pointer and Paul Mulcahy stripped Itejere on the rebound to secure possession and the Huskies were able to make enough free throws to secure a 75-67 victory.
The Dawgs return to action on Sunday night when they take on Nevada.
DOUBLE BONUS DOTS
- The hope was that moving away from the zone would help the Huskies in their defensive rebounding. That wasn’t the case tonight as NKU won the offensive rebounding battle 19-11. Way too many second chance points.
- Washington played good defense on him but UW is fortunate that NKU’s leading scorer, Marques Warrick, went 0/12 from the floor finishing with just 6 points and 4 rebounds.
- NKU’s Keeyan Itejere and LJ Wells are absolutely power conference athletes and finished with 5 combined blocks. In particular the Marquette transfer Itejere looks like he has a chance to dominate in the Horizon league if he avoids fouls like he mostly did tonight.
- Wheeler is as advertised as a passer and created dunks out of nothing on possessions that in past years would’ve just been contested jumpers. He found Brooks at least 3 times for dunks. He also could not keep his footing in the second half and had 3 extra turnovers as a result. Hopefully that doesn’t happen in the future.
- Brooks was also everything Washington wanted from him as he mostly made his jumpers and also got open for several dunks (although he had a pair of them blocked by Itejere or his numbers would’ve been even better). If this is the Brooks the Huskies get the rest of the way they’re in great shape.
- It’ll be interesting to see how the big man rotation plays out as Breidenbach got the start and played the most minutes and finished with 7 points and 5 rebounds. His lack of rim protection though was acutely felt against NKU. Braxton Meah played a lot more in the 1st half finishing with 4 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Franck Kepnang only played one possession in the 1st half but came in late and other than his technical played well with 2 points and 2 blocks.
- The rest of the rotation will also be interesting as Nate Calmese and Anthony Holland seemed to play the least with Wheeler back. They combined for 0 points on 2 shots.
- Wesley Yates is still not back yet from his injury.
- Paul Mulcahy twice got trapped on the baseline and turned it over after being unable to get off a good pass. That needs to stop.
- Set the Braxton Meah lane violation counter to 2. It really is spectacular how his delivery so completely screws up opponents’ timing.
- Moses Wood is a career 40% 3-point shooter so he’ll regress to the mean in a good way at some point but a 2/10 start from deep isn’t great. He did have one nifty block on defense though and was victimized by a terrible block/charge decision that should’ve been another turnover forced.