COLUMBUS, Ohio – Nahziah Carter sat at his locker stewing about missing a dunk on Utah State’s shot-blocking center Neemias Queta that surely would have made him a viral sensation on Day 2 of the NCAA tournament.
“Oooweee, I wanted that one,” the high-flying Husky said clapping his hands and smiling. “I think I got fouled, though.
“But it’s all right. I didn’t get that dunk, but we got something that’s so much better. We got that win and we’re moving on. That’s all that matters.”
Carter came off the bench and delivered in the clutch for No. 9 seed Washington, which overwhelmed No. 8 Utah State 78-61 with a surprisingly resurgent offensive performance and a suffocating defensive display.
Washington will move on to face the top-seeded UNC Tar Heels on Sunday at 11:40 a.m. in the Round of 32 at Nationwide Arena. The game will be broadcast on CBS.
The Huskies (27-8) had too much of everything for the Aggies (28-7) of the Mountain West.
Too much Noah Dickerson, who broke out of a three-game scoring slump to pound the Aggies inside with 20 points and 12 rebounds.
Too much Jaylen Nowell, who peppered Utah State with pinpoint shooting, including hitting 9 of 10 free throws, to finish with 19 points, five rebounds and five assists.
And too much Matisse Thybulle, who tallied 10 points, five steals, three blocks, three rebounds and two assists while leading UW’s stifling 2-3 zone defense that forced 21 turnovers.
But the Huskies wouldn’t have been able to move on without Carter.
“He literally changed the game,” said UW guard David Crisp, who had eight points before fouling out with 8:16 left. “We went on a drought and a stretch where we couldn’t get nothing to go. Things were getting a little bit stagnant and he took over.
“He was hitting shots. Handling the ball, and gave us another ball handler. He was huge. That turned the game around.”
Before Carter’s late-game heroics, the Huskies trailed 17-16 midway through the first half and took control with a 24-11 run to take a 40-28 lead into halftime.
Washington was up 48-35 when Utah State made one last comeback attempt and used an 18-6 spurt to nearly wipe away its 13-point deficit.
The Huskies held Utah State’s leading scoring Sam Merrill scoreless at halftime and handcuffed him for most of the game until the Aggies star drained a corner three-pointer to cut UW’s lead to 54-53 with 9:54 left.
That’s when Carter came alive and triggered a dormant UW offense that closed the game on a 24-8 run.
The sophomore guard converted or assisted on the next 11 points as UW regained control.
“You never think about taking over a game because you don’t ever want to be selfish,” Carter said. “I just let the game come to me. They left me open and I hit some shots. … Then, I got a little aggressive with it and made some plays.”
During a 3:45 spree, Carter drained back-to-back three-pointers, hit a free throw, found Dickerson beneath the rim for a dunk and converted a mid-range jumper.
When he finished, Washington led 65-55 with 6:09 left and the game was essentially over.
“He just went,” Nowell said. “He wasn’t scared of the moment. He really came out and was ready to play as hard as he could and it showed.
“Sometimes he doesn’t get a chance to show it because he doesn’t play that much, but when he comes in and he does have it going like that it’s a big game-changer for us.”
The Huskies led for 31:41 and dominated defensively while holding a prolific Aggies offense 18 points below its 79.1 scoring average.
“I said it tongue-in-cheek on one of the interviews the other day, to replicate Thybulle and some of those guys, we should have had those swimming pool noodles just to tip and deflect because obviously in practice those windows that we see are very, they’re wide windows,” Utah State coach Craig Smith said. “And you play against these guys and those windows are shrunk and just tipping and deflecting.”
Case in point, Thybulle, the nation’s steals leader who averages 3.2 per game, swiped a Brock Miller pass at midcourt and raced ahead for a breakaway dunk to put Washington on top 34-25 with 3:58 left in the first half.
Minutes later during a break on the sidelines, Crisp yelled at UW players: “They scared. I’m telling you. They scared.”
Thybulle also sensed trepidation and resignation among the Utah State players.
“It’s a combination of being fearful and just lost,” he said. “They’re scared to throw a pass because we’re tipping everything and they’re lost because it seems like there’s nowhere to go. When we see that on their face it’s like a shark smelling blood.”
The Huskies targeted Merrill and held him to just 10 points — 11 fewer than his scoring average.
Without their leading scorer, the Aggies were thrown off kilter and finished with their third-fewest points of the season. Miller finished with 13 points, Abel Porter 10 while Queta had 11 points and nine rebounds.
“We knew where they wanted to attack us,” Crisp said. “And we knew if we cut off the head of the snake, we would have a good chance of winning.”
The Huskies heard all week about their inconsistent offense that managed a season-low 44 points in their last outing.
Against Utah State, Washington tied for its most points in regulation in the past two months while shooting 49 percent from the field, 58.8 percent on three-pointers (10 of 17) and converted 18 of 21 free throws.
“We don’t worry about the offensive end,” Thybulle said. “We try to keep the ball moving. And we have our scout and we have areas that we’re trying to attack, but with our defense we’re able to stay in any game.
“If the ball is not going in and their ball isn’t going in either there’s no way they’re going to get too far ahead of us. Tonight we made shots and it’s a cliché, but when we do that, we can beat anybody.”
When it was over, the Huskies laughed and joked inside their locker room, but their attention quickly turned to Sunday’s game.
“Honestly, I’m already over this game,” Crisp said. “It’s survive and advance. We didn’t come here to be happy to just get one.”
Dickerson added: “We’re here for a job. And the job is not done yet.”
- Mike Hopkins was selected as the NABC District 20 Coach of the Year while Nowell and Thybulle were chosen all-District 20 first team.