Star freshman Markelle Fultz took over as UW trailed by three in the final four minutes, scoring six straight points. Washington won 109-103 over their Division II opponent.
The Huskies were in danger of dropping their first exhibition in 14 years before Markelle Fultz took over.
Trailing by three points in the final five minutes to Division II powerhouse Western Washington, the star freshman point guard scored six straight points and the Washington men’s basketball team regained control before pulling away at the end for a 109-103 victory on Thursday.
“He’s not your normal freshman,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “It’s one thing to have freshmen that are talented, it’s another thing to have one that’s a level above, and he’s one of those guys.”
The pregame hype surrounded Fultz, who finished with 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists in 23 minutes.
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However, he began the game on the bench and the 6,805 at Alaska Airlines Arena had to wait for his delayed debut.
“Markelle did a really good job,” Romar said. “I wish he could have played more minutes. … He was getting a little sore, so we rested him. He had been out and he missed a number of practices.
“He’s working his way back up. When we play next week, I’m sure he’ll be able to go 40 minutes, but tonight we were only able to play him the minutes that he played. He makes a difference with our team, there’s no doubt about it.”
Romar started an unconventional lineup that included one returning starter (guard Matisse Thybulle) and the team’s second-leading returning scorer (guard David Crisp) with three newcomers (guard Bitumba Baruti and forwards Sam Timmins and Matthew Atewe).
Fultz made his first appearance with 16:41 remaining, and the Huskies still had difficulty pulling away from the Vikings, who were picked to finish second in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference preseason coaches poll.
“It was a great experience for me,” said Fultz, who displayed several of the qualities that make him a projected top-three pick in the 2017 NBA draft. “We got a lot that we can work on. It was good that we came out with the ‘W.’ I think this is a very talented team on both ends of the floor, and we have a chance to do big things this year.”
Aside from Fultz’s brilliance, the combination of Noah Dickerson (who sat out due to an undisclosed injury), Timmins, Malik Dime and Atewe gives UW its most low-post scoring options it’s had under Romar. The Huskies, though, must solve some problems if they’re going to snap a five-year NCAA tournament drought. They were sloppy with passes and committed several unforced errors.
Western Washington sank 12 three-pointers. UW tried a man-to-man defense and a 3-2 zone, but nothing could cool off the Vikings until they grew tired in the end.
“Husky basketball is known to be fast, offensive teams,” said Thybulle, who had 17 points. “We play in transition. We can score. We can put up a lot of points really fast. … We’ve got to get back to that tough, gritty Husky defense.”
Western Washington had surged ahead 87-84 when Fultz took over. After he scored on two dribble layups and a couple of free throws, UW led 90-87 and kept the Vikings at bay.
“We’re definitely more encouraged,” said guard Dominic Green, who scored a team-high 25 points. “What’s wrong, we want to get it right.”
When asked about UW’s 27 fouls and a combined 92 free throws, Romar said: “I’ll stay away from commenting on that one. I don’t want to get fined.”
• Dickerson is expected to return when Washington opens the regular season at home Nov. 13 against Yale.