Seattle native Noah Williams hit a pair of free throws with five seconds remaining to send the Washington State Cougars to a 78-74 win over the Washington Huskies in Seattle on Friday night, completing the season sweep over their rivals.
Another Seattle native, CJ Elleby, led WSU with 21 points, but it was 18 second half points by Isaac Bonton that truly powered the Cougars (15-14 overalll, 6-10 Pac-12) to the victory. Washington drops to 13-16 and 3-13, last in the Pac-12.
Bonton was a sight for sore eyes; the offense struggled mightily during his absence with a leg injury over the past three games. And for a half, the Cougars’ second-leading scorer didn’t exactly look like himself, scoring just two points with two assists and two turnovers in the opening period.
But he caught fire in the second half with the game in the balance.
The first half was mostly back and forth until the Cougars finished the period with a 10-0 run keyed by 7 points from Elleby, who punctuated it with a steal and a breakaway dunk to give WSU a 13-point lead heading into the break. For the second consecutive game against the Huskies, the Cougars had more or less picked apart UW’s vaunted zone, working the gaps in the short corners and high post to move the zone to places it didn’t want to be.
Williams was particularly effective, scoring 12 points by making all three of his field goal attempts and all six of his free throws. He also chipped in three rebounds, two assists and a steal.
In the second half, though, the Cougars endured one of their all-too-familiar scoring droughts, thanks largely to a subtle adjustment by UW coach Mike Hopkins to his zone. The corner defenders came up high in an alignment that almost looked like a 4-1, and the Cougs were slow to adjust, turning the ball over repeatedly as they scored just four points in the first seven minutes of the second half.
Meanwhile, the Huskies adjusted offensively, rededicating themselves to taking the ball to the rim on a night when the whistles were extremely friendly — UW ended up shooting 38 free throws and making 21-of-38 inside the arc.
The result was a 19-4 run over those seven-plus minutes that turned the 13-point deficit into a two-point lead for the Huskies.
It turned out, that was the only haymaker the Huskies had in their pocket.
The teams traded the lead a handful of times over the next few minutes, but the game seemed to turn permanently in the Cougars’ favor with just over nine minutes to play when UW’s Jamal Bey — who had just dunked the Huskies to a 1-point lead — decided to give Bonton an extended stare down following a monster block of the WSU guard.
Unsurprisingly, Pac-12 Ref didn’t like that very much and gave Bey a technical foul, which was admittedly pretty soft.
No matter: Bonton calmly drained both free throws, then Elleby came free in the corner for a three, and the five-point trip gave WSU a four-point lead.
It was a lead they would never relinquish.
Bonton — who had already scored five of the previous eight points — continued his tear by converting back-to-back three-pointers on the next two Cougar possessions to push the lead back out to 10 points with just over eight minutes to go. The lead reached 13 just a minute later on a Bonton layup.
Washington was not done, however, going on a 7-0 spurt of its own to pull within six with just under five minutes to play. And while the Cougars made most of their free throws down the stretch to try and keep UW at arm’s length, the Huskies were making enough shots to continue to whittle the lead until they trailed by just one with 24 seconds to go following a layup by Nahziah Carter with roughly 30 seconds to play.
But Bonton was fouled near midcourt as the Huskies were more or less forced to foul, and he proceeded to make just one of the two free throws — his first miss from the line all night. On the ensuing possession, Carter — who had been very strong to the rim in the second half, drove hard at Williams. But Williams was up to the challenge, giving Carter enough space to make an awkward move that left the shot short. Williams grabbed the rebound, and he had two free throws and a two point lead.
Before even shooting the first, here’s what Williams had to say:
.@noahwilliams44 before he even makes the free throw to make it a two possession game:— Brenna Greene (@BrennaGreene_) February 29, 2020
“This is my city.”
Cougs pick up Kyle Smith’s first Pac-12 road win in Williams’ hometown. WSU sweeps UW for the first time since the 2016-2017 season. pic.twitter.com/h2apE7a5V6
Williams calmly drained both, and the game was effectively over, leading to these scenes postgame.
The Cougars will be back in action on Thursday when they travel to Tucson to face the Arizona Wildcats.