The Huskies trailed by double-digits in the third quarter and made a run early in the fourth quarter, but saw their season come to an end with a 85-81 defeat against Saint Mary’s in the National Invitation Tournament.
MORAGA, Calif. — Washington found out firsthand Monday what other teams on the West Coast have known for years — it’s tough to beat Saint Mary’s inside its own cozy little gymnasium.
The Huskies trailed by double-digits early in the third quarter and made a run early in the fourth, but saw their season come to an end with a 85-81 defeat against Saint Mary’s in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament at a raucous McKeon Pavilion.
Washington trailed by as many as 16 points late in the third quarter (NIT games are four 10-minute quarters instead of two 20-minute halves), but rallied to cut the deficit to three points, the last time at 82-79 after Jaylen Nowell’s three-pointer with 36 seconds to go.
The Huskies, though, could get no closer.
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Guard Jordan Ford hit three of four free throws in the closing seconds to seal the victory as top-seeded Saint Mary’s (30-5) advanced and will play host to No. 2 Utah on Wednesday.
Washington, seeded fifth, finished the season at 21-13.
“We turned them over, we got some steals, we were able to make some shots and started to be more aggressive,” Huskies coach Mike Hopkins said of the fourth quarter. “We just didn’t have enough. Wish there was more time on that clock.”
Forward Noah Dickerson led the Huskies with 22 points and nine rebounds.
Ford had 26 points for the Gaels, who improved to 18-1 at home this season.
“It’s tough because it’s small, it’s intimate, it’s hot, it’s loud,” Hopkins said of Saint Mary’s 3,500-seat gym. “It’s our first time being here and they have a very good home-court advantage, a good fan base.”
Nowell came in averaging a team-leading 16.1 points, but was held to four in the first half on 2-for-7 shooting.
The star freshman got things going in the second half and finished with 14 points and three assists. But while the Huskies shot a more-than-respectable 55.2 percent (32 of 58) from the floor, they struggled to get stops, at least for the first three quarters.
Saint Mary’s hit eight of its first 10 three-pointers against the Huskies’ zone defense, and shot 56.4 percent (31 for 55) for the game.
The Huskies pressed the Gaels in the final 10 minutes, and cut Saint Mary’s lead down to four after a pair of free throws by Dickerson with 5:40 to go. Dickerson later scored on a dunk after a physical spin move with 2:52 to go to trim the deficit to 77-74. But the Huskies, who never led, could not get over the hump against the more-experienced Gaels.
The Huskies trailed 16-6 with just more than two minutes to go in the first quarter, but later settled into more of a rhythm on offense. A Nahziah Carter three-pointer and a Matisse Thybulle steal and dunk cut Saint Mary’s lead to 24-18 in the second quarter.
Saint Mary’s, though, had an answer every time Washington threatened to make a more serious run. Evan Fitzner had 20 points off the bench for Saint Mary’s.
The Huskies lose only two players to graduation — seniors Dan Kingma and Greg Bowman — as their top 10 scorers all have eligibility remaining. It figures the returning players would benefit from playing in the postseason, even if it was just for a couple of games. Washington beat Boise State 77-74 last Wednesday in the opening round of the NIT.
“They’ve accomplished a lot,” Hopkins said of his Huskies. “Obviously there’s nothing that’s going to make them feel better after a loss other than we’ve accomplished a lot and we can learn from this tournament experience.”