The Mississippi Valley State basketball team wears warm-up jerseys displaying the motto “Against all odds.”
It is a reminder that the Southwestern Athletic Conference school with an enrollment of 2,200 can accomplish things not expected of them.
For about 30 minutes Friday night at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, the Delta Devils defied the odds by hanging even with the Washington Huskies.
Then UW put together an 18-point second-half run and continued on to win, 95-80. The final score gives little indication of how hard the Huskies had to work to avoid the major upset.
“We didn’t put forth that focus for 40 minutes,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “That’s what we’re looking at. Ironically the first half, the first few minutes, we were there. … But our turnovers — not unlike a couple of other games — allowed them to get a little energy. When we were in half-court defensively, I thought we did a pretty good job early on. Now, offensively, for whatever reason, we couldn’t get the ball to go down.”
The Delta Devils took their only lead when guard Anthony McDonald opened the game with a 3-pointer. Washington followed that with eight straight points, and the expectation might have been that they would cruise from there.
Mississippi Valley had other plans and answered each time Washington seemed close to breaking things open.
At halftime, UW led 39-35. Less than 13 minutes from the end, the Devils pulled even at 56.
They had a chance to take the lead but missed a 3-point attempt. The Huskies rebounded and finished with a layup by Nigel Williams-Goss. That started the game-turning run. By the time the visitors scored again, the issue was settled.
“Getting stops,” Romar said. “That’s pretty consistent with our team. We look across the board: Game to game, half to half, when we get stops, man, we look like a pretty good basketball team. And during that stretch that’s what we did. … When we took care of the ball and we got stops, we were fine.”
Washington had balanced scoring with four players — Williams-Goss, Andrew Andrews, Perris Blackwell and C.J Wilcox — all clustered from 18 to 15 points. Wilcox also added a career-high 10 rebounds.
Rebounding turned out to be one of the big differences, as the Huskies had a 51-29 advantage on the boards. However, Washington turned the ball over 16 times, continuing a recent problem.
The game was played before an announced crowd of 6,351, in part due to a direct conflict with the UW football team’s Fight Hunger bowl victory over Brigham Young. A small alumni band filled in for the usual UW pep band.
“It’s difficult when maybe not as many fans are there as you want,” Wilcox said. “But every game’s as important as the next one. We have to treat every game from here on out like it’s a championship game. Especially with the Pac-12 coming up, every game’s going to be a tough one.”
UW concludes nonconference play at 6 p.m. Sunday at home against Hartford.
Romar was asked what he hopes to see in that final test before beginning Pac-12 Conference play Thursday at Arizona State.
“Sustained focus for 40 minutes,” he said. “It’s a weird situation because you look — we’re not playing machine-like basketball, but I still see from a month ago we made a lot of progress.”Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports