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Noah Williams wills WSU to 3OT win over Stanford, 85-76

The sophomore guard topped his career-high again with 40.

PULLMAN, WA - FEBRUARY 20: Washington State guard Noah Williams (24) runs past a defender during the second half of a Pac 12 matchup between the Stanford Cardinal and the Washington State Cougars on February 20, 2021, at Beasley Coliseum in Pullman, WA. Jack Ellis/CougCenter

In one of the gutsiest performances you’ll ever see from a Washington State squad, the Cougars outlasted the Stanford Cardinal in three overtimes to pull out an 85-76 win behind 40 points from Noah Williams.

The Cougars improved to 14-10 overall and 7-10 in the conference, while Stanford dropped to 14-9 and 10-7 — and possibly off the NCAA tournament bubble, as the ESPN broadcast was so keen on reminding everyone over the 2 hours and 42 minutes it took to complete this sometimes awkward, often frustrating, and ultimately exhilarating contest.

“I said that when I committed, in my commitment video I told them I wanted to come in here and change the culture,” Williams said. “That’s what we did. I believe in coach (Kyle) Smith, coach Smith believes in us as a team. Like I said earlier in the season, we’re young and we’re learning and we’re a great team. Everybody on our team wants to win.”

It’s impossible to talk about this game without starting with Williams, who was coming off a career-high 32 points on Thursday in the absence of leading scorer Isaac Bonton. Thankfully, that one was a blowout, so WSU coach Kyle Smith got to rest Williams down the stretch, despite Williams sitting on the cusp of a rare triple-double.

It turned out to be a stroke of genius, as WSU was again without Bonton (and Ryan Rapp) and would end up needing Williams to nearly go the distance in this one. He logged 54 of the 55 possible minutes and took 35 shots — both new school records — while also taking 10 trips to the free throw line. He shot a whopping 18 3-pointers (also a new school record), making 8 of them — this, from a guy who took 27 and made only 4 all of last season despite logging heavy minutes as a freshman.

It was the first 40-point game since Klay Thompson’s 43 points in the 2011 Pac-10 tournament against Washington, and Williams’ 72 points this weekend were the most in a conference two-game swing in school history, surpassing Benny Seltzer’s 68 in 1993. It also led to WSU’s first weekend sweep of the Bay Area schools in 9 years.

“He was not wanting to lose,” Smith said. “He’s a really good competitor. He’s probably got the best belief of anyone I’ve ever coached. He has great self-esteem, great confidence.”

Williams had a lot of big buckets in this one, but the biggest of them all came at the end of regulation.

WSU trailed by 8 points early in the second half, and had a difficult time cutting the margin to a point where they’d have a chance to take the lead. Stanford’s defense, ranked No. 21 nationally and No. 2 in the Pac-12 in efficiency, made life tremendously difficult for the Cougars at every turn, and it was mainly because of Williams that WSU was able to maintain contact — he had 12 of WSU’s 20 points through the first 13 minutes of the second half.

A Daejon Davis 3-pointer with 7 minutes to go pushed the Cardinal lead back up to 7, but WSU finally found a run: Over the next three minutes, they’d pull even at 57 behind a pair of DJ Rodman free throws, a Williams 3 and an Andrej Jakimovski 3. But the Cougs went cold again, as an Oscar da Silva 3-point play and a breakaway dunk by Bryce Wills off a bad pass pushed the lead back to 5.

Then Williams did his thing again, hitting a 3-pointer to pull WSU within two:

But Stanford went back up by three on the next possession after Dishon Jackson’s obviously clean block of da Silva’s dunk attempt was mysteriously called a foul — one of many critical calls in this one that tilted in Stanford’s favor. To that point, it had included a technical foul assessed to Efe Abogidi late in the first half after a block ...

... as well as a potential three-point play by Williams with just over 16 minutes to play and WSU down two that was waved off as being a foul on the floor, even though Williams was clearly in his upward motion toward the rim. Andrej Jakimovski followed it up with a missed layup — a costly empty possession, as it kicked off the run that led to Stanford’s 8-point lead.

Anywho, da Silva could only take partial advantage of the gift and make one of the two free throws to give Stanford a three-point lead.

WSU elected to playing for two with under 20 seconds to go, but Williams missed his jumper and suddenly Stanford was going to get a chance to go to the free throw line with a chance to finally ice the game, once and for all.

Of course, that assumed the Cardinal could get the ball in bounds, something they had a hard time doing — so hard, that the official on the baseline blew his whistle and held 5 fingers in the air, setting off a celebration on the WSU bench.

NOT SO FAST! Another official ran in from half court, asserting that Stanford had called a timeout. Smith was apoplectic:

Let’s take a closer look!

Given another chance, Stanford succeeded in getting the ball in play, sending freshman guard Michael O’Connell to the line. But he bricked them both (ball don’t lie?), giving Williams one more chance with no timeouts. That’s all he needed:

“There are a few more gray hairs watching a couple of shots,” Smith said, “but he was willful and the last one to send it to overtime, I thought he was going to wait too long and they were going to be able to foul him. I said, just pull it, and then he made it and I’m not sure he didn’t get fouled.”

He did get fouled — but, of course, Smith can’t say that. Williams should have been heading to the line with a chance to win the game on a four-point play, as Wills hip-checked him on the followthrough of the hard contest. It’s not super obvious from the replay above, but there’s another angle where the contact is clear — and actually pretty egregious.

Regardless, it capped a heroic performance in the second half in which Williams scored 21 of WSU’s 36 points — truly, it was only because of Williams that WSU would have a chance to win the game.

By the first OT, though, Williams was running on fumes, but so were the Cardinal. Each team could only muster 5 points, but Stanford had a chance to win it with the final possession after Williams came oh-so-close to putting the Cougs ahead with a layup. However, WSU locked the Cardinal down after Efe Abogidi got his hand on a pass to da Silva that set off a mad scramble and resulted in a shot-clock violation for Stanford.

The second overtime see-sawed back and forth, with each team holding leads and a couple of ties mixed in. WSU took a late lead with 37 seconds to go when Jakimovski was fouled on a defensive rebound by da Silva — his 5th — sending the freshman to the line. He hit the first cleanly, but the second bounced around, seeming to sit on the edge of the rim forever before finally rolling off. It hung on the rim so long that everyone just sort of watched it — everyone except Williams, who swooped in, grabbed the rebound, and was subsequently fouled by Jaiden Delaire.

But Williams could also only hit one free throw, and the lead sat at just two.

Without da Silva, Stanford turned to Delaire to make something happen. He probed into the lane, where Jaz Kunc cut him off. Delaire then blatantly shoved Kunc with his off arm ... but — SURPRISE! — no whistle was forthcoming. Instead of WSU heading the other direction to potentially ice the game at the free throw line, Delaire calmly put it in to tie the game once again.

Williams’ layup on the next possession missed — he might have been fouled, but yanno — and we headed to the third OT.

Finally, mercifully, the Cougs took the drama out of it. After another pair of misses from Williams to open the period — the second coming after Williams rebounded his own miss — the Cougars got on the board to take the lead when Jakimovski found Abogidi underneath with a nice pocket pass for a layup.

O’Connell turned it over for Stanford on its next possession — one of 23 turnovers for the Cardinal in the game — and Kunc converted a missed Rodman 3-pointer into a putback for a four-point lead. ESPN’s analyst Adrian Branch said a 4-point lead in the third OT feels like 10, truly the only insightful thing he had to say all afternoon.

After Stanford’s Spencer Jones missed a 3, Jakimovski probed the defense before sending a behind-the-back bounce pass to Abogidi at the 3-point line, and — for the first time in 20(!) attempts — it found the bottom of the net. It was Jakimovski’s 9th assist, and WSU was suddenly up by three possessions, 83-76, with just over 2:30 to play.

“That was big, that was big for (Abogidi) and big for us too,” Kunc said. “It came just in the right moment. He can shoot. ... For guys like that, it’s just about confidence and just about letting them fly. If you miss a couple shots, you just can’t stop. Especially a guy like him. He’s open a lot because people have to double-team Noah, double-team Isaac.”

Kunc stole the ball on the next possession — his fourth of the game — and Williams truly put the game on ice by hitting a floater in the lane for the last two of his 40 with 1:44 to play.

Neither team would score again, and the game would end fittingly: with Williams holding the ball as the clock ran out.

WSU returns to the court on Thursday at Arizona, a team they nearly knocked off at the beginning of Pac-12 play in January. Tip off is 8 p.m. PT on FS1.