After starting the season with four straight home games that were supposed to be tune-ups, the Washington Huskies men’s basketball team traveled to Sioux Falls, South Dakota and held off George Mason for a 77-74 victory in an opening-round game at the Crossover Classic on Monday night.
Terrell Brown Jr. led the way with a game-high 23 points while PJ Fuller tied his personal best with 21 points off the bench.
Washington, which led 31-23 at halftime and was ahead for over 30 minutes, could never pull away from George Mason and needed several clutch free throws at the end to secure its first road win.
The Huskies (3-2) will face South Dakota State (5-1), which beat Nevada 102-75 earlier Monday night, at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the four-team, three-day round-robin event at Sanford Pentagon.
Here are three impressions from UW’s win over George Mason.
UW’s zone stifles
George Mason entered the game shooting 41.1% on three-pointers, however the Huskies held the Patriots to just 3-of-14 shooting behind the arc in the first half.
The Patriots finished with a respectable 9 of 23 on 3s, but it was their fewest 3-pointers this season.
Too often the Huskies failed to contain DeVon Cooper, who canned 5 of 9 three-pointers and finished with 21 points to share team-high scoring honors with Josh Oduro. But Washington kept George Mason marksman D’Shawn Schwartz in check (1 for 3 on 3s and seven points) after he sank 16 of 34 from long range in the previous four games.
The Huskies also played a man-to-man defense and sparingly utilized its full-court press, but they had some of their best moments defensively with the 2-3 zone, especially in the first half.
A sequence that summarized UW’s early defensive dominance took place just before halftime.
Nate Roberts pinned Patriots forward Malik Henry along the baseline and he tossed the ball towards the perimeter before falling out of bounds. However, Daejon Davis picked off the pass and quickly whipped it ahead to Brown to start a 2-on-1 fast break that ended with lob to the rim and an emphatic alley-oop dunk by Emmitt Matthews Jr.
On the ensuing possession, Brown deflected a pass at the top of the key for another turnover. This time, he dropped a pass off to a trailing Davis for another flush and a 29-20 lead with 2:17 left.
Washington, which finished with 10 steals, forced 14 turnovers for 18 points.
Brown delivers again
The Huskies led 62-60 with 4:47 remaining when Brown scored the next nine points for UW to go ahead 71-65. During the spurt, he drove arund a defender into the lane and converted on 4 of 5 possessions. Brown sank three floaters in traffic before converting a layup despite being fouled and connecting on the ensuing free throw for a three-point play.
Brown converted 7 of 13 field goals, including 1 for 1 on three-pointers and he was 3 of 4 at the line. He also had eight rebounds, four assists, four steals, one block and just one turnover in 37 minutes.
“He’s incredible,” said Fuller, who accounted for 21 of UW’s 25 bench points. “He’s one of the best bucket getters I’ve ever played with. He’s very poised. His IQ level is through the roof. He’s just a very intelligent basketball player.”
Davis, who had 10 points, committed a costly turnover with 46 seconds left that led to DeVon Cooper’s three-pointer, which cut UW’s lead to 71-70 with 42 seconds left.
The Huskies, which connected on 21 of 28 free throws, went 6 for 6 at the charity stripe in the final 18 seconds, including two from Brown and four from Fuller.
Ahead by three with 0.6 seconds left, Fuller blocked Jamal Hartwell II’s desperation three-point attempt that landed out of bounds along the baseline as time expired.
Brown and Fuller combined to score Washington’s final 15 points.
Three-point shooting still an issue
Washington, which shot 24.1% on three-pointers in its first four games, converted just 6 of 20 from downtown on Monday night.
No one outside of Fuller, who was 3 for 8, could consistently find the bucket from long range.
The Huskies connected on 5 of 12 three-pointers in the first half, but sank 1 of 8 after the break.
Inexplicably, Matthews continues to shoot a high number of 3-pointers even though he was 28.2% (51 of 181) on three-pointers during his three-year tenure at West Virginia. This season, he’s shooting 3 of 18 behind the arc, including 0 for 4 on Monday night. Matthews has missed his last 10 three-point attempts.
Despite another frigid perimeter shooting performance, Washington made strides offensively while reaching season highs in points (77), assists (15), field goal shooting percentage (48.1%) and free throw percentage (75%).
Presumably, the Huskies will need another robust offensive outing to keep pace with South Dakota State, which ranks 21st nationally while averaging 88.4 points per game. UW ranks 228th at 70.3 ppg.