SEATTLE — It’s difficult to tell how the Washington men’s basketball team feels about itself before flying to New York this week for a semifinal game against Indiana in the 2K Sports Classic benefiting the Wounded Warrior Project.
On the one hand, the Huskies displayed moxie and resolve Sunday night while erasing a 12-point second-half deficit for a 92-80 win over in-state rival Eastern Washington.
On the other hand, the Huskies wrapped up their three-game homestand with a 2-1 record. They trailed by double digits in each game and they were outscored in three of six halves.
When asked to assess Washington’s performance, coach Lorenzo Romar said: “Inconsistent.”
“When we’ve put forth the effort, we’ve done a decent job,” he said. “When we haven’t, we’ve looked putrid. That’s something you can control — your effort. Our guys recognize that.”
Effort and defense were lacking in the first half against the Eagles, who took a 10-point lead midway into the period and led 48-39 at the break.
There were several tense minutes for the 6,504 at Alaska Airlines Arena, especially when Washington trailed 57-45 and was down 64-53 with 13:22 left.
Staring at their second straight home defeat to a nonconference opponent, the Huskies turned desperate.
They also turned to touted freshman Nigel Williams-Goss, who spearheaded a four-guard lineup that shot down the high-flying Eagles in the final minutes.
Three games into his UW career, the McDonald’s All-American proved why he was a touted high-school recruit.
“Nigel showed tonight why he’s been a part of so many wins in his young career before he got here,” Romar said. “He just had a determined look about him tonight.
“He was so efficient with the basketball. Constantly chattering. Constantly instructing. That’s what a floor general does.”
The Huskies needed his leadership, but they valued his on-court production even more.
Williams-Goss finished with 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting, six rebounds, five assists and three steals in 35 minutes.
Trailing 64-53 with 13:22 left, Williams-Goss took over and scored nine points during Washington’s decisive 22-6 run.
He capped the spurt with a dribble-drive layup over 6-foot-7 Eastern forward Venky Jois despite being fouled. Williams-Goss sank the ensuing free throw, which gave UW a 75-70 lead with 7:38 left.
“As the game went on those lanes became more open,” Williams-Goss said. “Coach Romar preaches to attack, attack, attack, offensively and defensively,”
Washington’s four- and five-guard lineup constantly charged at Eastern’s formidable front line, which resulted in layups or fouls.
The Huskies converted 31 of 34 free throws, which overcame a 1-for-13 shooting display on 3-pointers.
Meanwhile, the Eagles managed 11 3-pointers, including seven from Tyler Harvey, who finished with a personal-best 28 points.
However, Eastern (1-1) had no answer for UW’s relentless attack. Four Eagles had at least four fouls, including starting center Martin Seiferth and backup forward Thomas Reuter, who fouled out.
Forward Perris Blackwell, a transfer from San Francisco, had his first double-double (16 points and 11 rebounds) at UW.
However, the story of the game was the Huskies’ small lineup led by Williams-Goss. C.J Wilcox added 15 points, Darin Johnson 12 and Andrew Andrews 11.
Still, it remains to be seen if the Huskies have found a winning formula that they can repeat against stiffer competition.
“I know Eastern is a little different team than Indiana, which is our next opponent,” Romar said. “But this is something hopefully we can build on — that effort.”