In almost every way that matters, Marcus Tsohonis’ collegiate basketball career began six weeks ago at Stanford.
The Washington freshman didn’t play in the Huskies’ 61-55 defeat, but that was UW’s first game without starting point guard Quade Green, who is academically ineligible for the remainder of the regular season.
It’s overly simplistic to pin Washington’s dramatic decline on Green’s absence, but the Huskies (12-14, 2-11 Pac-12) are 1-10 without him and riding an eight-game losing streak heading into Thursday’s game against Stanford (16-9, 5-7).
And it’s equally unfair to blame UW’s struggles on Tsohonis, who has started the past four games after emerging as the most effective playmaker following a derby with sophomores Elijah Hardy and Jamal Bey.
But Tsohonis understands that, fair or not, point guards bear responsibility for an underperforming offense that ranks 11th in the Pac-12 in scoring (69.4 points per game).
“I feel like it’s fair to put some of it on my back,” Tsohonis said. “That’s just the type of guy I am. I take constructive criticism a lot. I just go with it and make sure I’ve got to lead my guys.”
Tsohonis made an immediate impact while scoring 19 points on 8-for-16 shooting against Arizona State in his first start. He followed that performance with a 13-point performance at Washington State.
However in last week’s games in Los Angeles, Tsohonis tallied a total of six points while dishing out six assists.
“Marcus has done an incredible job running the team,” coach Mike Hopkins said. “He’s on the scouting report now. He’s had big games. Now when you’re on the scouting report, you’ve got to execute better. You’ve got to see how they’re playing certain ways.”
The scouting report says Tsohonis is a deliberate, deft ball-handler who is proficient at scoring in the paint. And despite unorthodox shooting mechanics, he’s UW’s second-best three-point shooter (42.4 percent) behind Green.
“I’m definitely not going to change my game just because I’m on the scouting report and they know what I’m doing,” said Tsohonis, who’s averaging 8.1 points in 10 Pac-12 games. “I’m going to still play my game.
“At first, it was kind of they don’t know who I am and they don’t know what I do, so I kind of came in and just played my game. Now they know what I’m doing.”
Admittedly, Tsohonis is learning on the fly. He appeared in just three nonconference games and was slated to redshirt before Hopkins pushed him into the rotation.
“For the situation that he was put in, I couldn’t have wished for anybody better or more proud of a guy that’s gone through adversity,” Hopkins said.
Tsohonis is being tasked to dissect opposing defenses and lead the Huskies when they go through those maddening scoring droughts that have led to so many of their recent defeats.
“When we’re not scoring like that, that’s more like when we’re thinking about ourselves like, ‘OK I need to get a shot,’” Tsohonis said. “We kind of go away from what’s working. It’s more about doing what we have to do to win.”
And Tsohonis has to answer difficult questions about an offense that averaged just 56.5 points in its past two games.
“We’ve got to put the ball in the bucket,” he said. “That’s a big thing. Once we’re running and sharing the ball and one more pass, that’s when we’re playing at our best.
“When we’re not stagnant and going one-on-one with guys that’s when we’re not scoring in the high 80s. We’ve just got to put it together and get the ball moving.”
Tsohonis has displayed an ability to score, but the Huskies need him to create scoring opportunities for their big guns Isaiah Stewart, Jaden McDaniels and Nahziah Carter.
“I can play the 1 or the 2, but right now … my requirement is to get everybody the ball,” said Tsohonis, who averages just 2.1 assists. “Get everybody in their flow and getting confident. Getting everybody going. Getting Jaden going, getting Isaiah the ball (and) Naz (and) everybody. Just getting them in their rhythm and make sure they have the confidence to play good.”
This season has been increasingly difficult for Tsohonis and several UW players who are unaccustomed to losing so many games.
“Everybody on this team came from being Gatorade Player of the Year and winning their state championships,” he said. “It’s tough for all of us. We’re still trying to really figure it out just because we’re right there every game.”
Hopkins’ message to Tsohonis: Keep getting better and believe in the process.
“He’s never lost, so for a young guy it’s like, ‘What am I doing wrong?’” Hopkins said. “You’re doing nothing wrong. The key is to focus on: ‘What can I do better? How can I help this team win?’
“You’re a champion, bud. You’re a freshman playing at a high level in one of the best leagues in America this year. And you’ve had unbelievable games against some of the best teams in the country. This thing is figuring out keeping your poise, keeping your confidence and knowing that you’re really freaking good. And that’s why he plays because he’s really freaking good.”