With Markelle Fultz back in the lineup after missing two games with a sore knee, the Huskies get off to slow start and see losing streak extended to eight games.
The Huskies have a chance to find that ever-elusive win with Markelle Fultz on the floor, which is something that wasn’t the case in the previous two games when their star point guard sat out with a sore right knee.
However, Fultz returned Thursday and nearly wrote a storybook finish with a 50-foot heave from halfcourt at the buzzer that would have given the Washington men’s basketball team the win it so desperately needs.
Instead, the potential game-winner hit the front of the rim and he flashed a bit of a smile as the ball bounced harmlessly away, perhaps sensing he did all he could in the 83-81 loss to Arizona State in front of 6,910 at Alaska Airlines Arena.
“Huge lift,” coach Lorenzo Romar said when asked about Fultz. “He’s a little rusty from not playing and not practicing. But he made plays for us like he’s done all year.”
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Fultz played just 30 minutes – his lowest in a Pac-12 game – while scoring 19 points on 7-for-16 shooting. He also had four assists, two rebounds and two steals to offset four turnovers.
With his mother Ebony and sister Shauntese – they flew 2,800 miles from Maryland – sitting in the front-row seats, the UW freshman star nearly pulled off a miraculous finish.
The frantic finale was set up by a few bizarre plays in the last minutes.
The score was tied 71-71 at the 6:46 mark when ASU used an 8-2 run to go ahead 79-73 with 4:31 left.
Three minutes later, David Crisp canned a three-pointer that cut UW’s six-point deficit to 80-77.
On UW’s next possession, Fultz missed a layup and Carlos Johnson was given a Flagrant 1 foul while wrestling ASU’s Tra Holder for the rebound. The Sun Devils guard retaliated and pushed Johnson and was given a technical.
Both teams made two free throws, which preserved ASU’s three-point lead with 9.8 seconds left.
Trailing by three points, Fultz misfired on a three-pointer from the corner in front of the UW bench. Dan Kingma cleaned up the miss while scoring on a putback with 2 seconds left.
Torian Graham, who scored a game-high 29 points, hit the first of two free throws before ASU (13-14, 6-8) was penalized on a lane violation that gave the Huskies one last chance, trailing by two points with 1.1 seconds left.
Kingma connected with Fultz at midcourt, and he turned around and fired over Graham.
“It had a legitimate chance,” Romar said. “He practices those shots all the time.”
ASU coach Bobby Hurley feared the worst.
“I’ve been on the right side of that, way back when,” said the former Duke star, referring to former teammate Christian Laettner’s storied buzzer-beater in the 1992 NCAA tournament. “The more time that was put on the clock, the more dangerous a play like that can become.
“It was good coaching to get the ball in his hands. He’s got some magic about him. We were fortunate that it caromed off.”
Despite a valiant effort from Fultz, a career performance from Johnson (19 points and 12 rebounds) and Matisse Thybulle’s first-ever double-double (15 points and 11 rebounds), the Huskies suffered their eighth straight defeat and fell to 9-17 and 2-12 in the Pac-12.
“We let it slip away at the end,” said Johnson, who provided feats of athleticism and grit that’s been missing most of the season.
Said Romar: “He was one of the ringleaders in terms of that scrappiness. We weren’t getting any loose balls. We just couldn’t grab it. Then he comes in, and all of a sudden it was his. He made some big plays. He gave us a lot of energy.”
Energy was in short supply early on for Washington, which fell behind 13-2 in the opening minutes and was down 30-15 midway in the first half.
By then Romar went to the bench five times and brought in reserves Dominic Green, Devenir Duruisseau, Bitumba Baruti, Kingma and Johnson while trying to find a spark.
Finally, Romar turned to a five-guard lineup that at times included Fultz, Crisp, Thybulle and a rotation of reserves.
After falling into a 15-point hole, the Huskies closed the first half with a 26-9 run capped by Fultz’s long jumper that put UW ahead 41-39 at halftime — the first lead of the game for Washington.