The Huskies’ forgettable men’s basketball season that’s been highlighted by so many blowout defeats and losing streaks finally produced something to remember – a sensational performance from Marcus Tsohonis, who did almost everything in the 65-63 victory Monday night over Washington State, including hitting the winning shot in the final seconds in Pullman.
“I’m happy that we got the W,” said Tsohonis who scored a career-high 29 points on 13-for-20 shooting in 38 minutes. “The game-winner is lovely for sure, but I’m just glad that my guys were getting me open and finding me on cuts and catch-and-shoots.
“I give it all to them that they were able to get me off today.”
No one will ever mistake the 6-foot-3 guard of being the fastest member among the UW players.
However, with 10 seconds remaining, the sophomore guard had the ball in his hands and a chance to end the Huskies’ five-game skid with a dramatic finish against their arch-nemesis.
The only person standing between Tsohonis and the basket at Beasley Coliseum was childhood friend Noah Williams, who tied the score at 63-63 for the Cougars with a running layup on the previous possession.
However, Tsohonis never hesitated and raced the length of the court before using a cross-over dribble to get into the lane and lofting a mid-range floater that sailed over Williams and into the net with 2.4 seconds left.
“We didn’t have a timeout, but even if we do have a timeout if they tie the game or whatnot we try to go coast to coast so we don’t let the opposing team set up their defense,” coach Mike Hopkins said. “Marcus made a play. I was hoping he went faster. He slowed up and I was, ‘Oh my God, he’s going to shoot a three.’
“He was just special tonight for us. When you’re having a game like he’s having, you want him to take the shot. He made an amazing play.”
The fact that Tsohonis scored over Williams, his former Seattle Rotary AAU teammate and the WSU protagonist who made boastful claims after the past two matchups about WSU dominating the rivalry, made it all the more sweeter.
“I saw him get that layup super quick so it kind of just came,” Tsohonis said. “I looked at the clock and came up. He was guarding me. It’s always, we’re going to talk our talk. It was good to be able to go out there and compete and play.”
Washington (4-16, 3-12 Pac-12) snapped a three-game losing streak against Washington State (12-10, 5-10).
The Huskies played without Quade Green, who sat out with a illness while the Cougars were missing Isaac Bonton due to an ankle injury.
Without the senior point guards who lead their respective squads in scoring, both teams – which played their third game in five days – struggled at the start while combining to shoot 1 of 11 from the field.
Eventually, the Huskies got going thanks to Tsohonis, who canned back-to-back three-pointers to put UW up 20-13.
“Q is a great leader,” said Tsohonis, who started in place of Green. “He wasn’t able to play today so I knew I had to step up just running the offense and be able to talk to these guys on the floor. I felt like I had to take it upon myself to really step up and be a leader.”
Washington State coach Kyle Smith added: “He’s a human heat check. He’s really slithery, he’s hard to get physical with, he doesn’t really get contact and he can just really score. They’ve got a few of those and without Quade Green out there, they needed somebody else to step up and he did. He’s a guy, you don’t want him to make his first shot, I assure you that. He did and he just kept it going.”
Spurred by Efe Abogidi’s monster dunk, the Cougars answered with an 8-0 run capped by Williams’ jumper for a 21-20 lead with 7:21 left.
Washington finished the first half with a 16-5 run to take a 36-26 lead into halftime.
“We were locked in and focused from the beginning of the game,” Hopkins said. “I felt like in our first matchup against them, they set the tone. I felt like tonight we set the tone. We were focused. We were locked in defensively. That led to being in good position. Forced them to try to make some plays.”
Washington went up 14 points (42-28) early in the second half before Washington State seized momentum with a 17-1 run, including 13 consecutive points to go up 45-43 at the 8:54 mark.
The Huskies went scoreless for 8 minutes and 12 seconds before Tsohonis drained his third three-pointer for a 46-45 lead with 8:28 remaining.
Washington never trailed again, but WSU didn’t go away quietly.
Helped in part by UW’s missed free throws, the Cougars erased a six-point deficit in the final 2:15 to tie the game in the final 10 seconds and set up Tsohonis’ heroics.
The Huskies wanted the ball in the hands of Tsohonis, who had scored at least 22 points in back-to-back games, and the Cougars had their best perimeter defender in Williams guarding him.
“I’ll take Noah in a game-winning situation,” Smith said. “I’ll take him to make a good play. Tsohonis had to do it over one of our best competitors.”
Washington forced 19 turnovers that led to 14 points. Meanwhile, the Huskies committed a season-low turnovers and had a season-high 15 assists.
Hopkins credited Erik Stevenson (18 points, seven rebounds and seven assists) for a relatively mistake-free and efficient performance for UW’s offense, which shot 41.7% from the field.
“He can impact the game,” Hopkins said when asked about Stevenson. “He’s a physical tough guy and he showed that physicality. He’s not a good passer, he’s a great passer when he hits singles. When he goes for home runs, I get really mad.”
Aljaz Kunc had 14 points, Dishon Jackson 13 and Williams 12 for Washington State, which dominated the rebounding battle 41-27.
Washington has four regular-season games remaining on the schedule, not including a postponed game against Arizona State. The Huskies host Stanford (13-8. 9-6) on Thursday.
“It’s all about finding ways to win,” Hopkins said. “It doesn’t have to be pretty. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You’ve just got to find a way and our guys found that way tonight.”