He jumped and screamed and waved his arms, punching the air with joyous fury as he stalked in front of the scorer’s table, the kind of celebration this team has not frequently initiated in recent years.
Lorenzo Romar is not an emotional man. Not outwardly, anyway. But the improbability of what the Washington Huskies accomplished Sunday afternoon at Hec Edmundson Pavilion sent him momentarily into some kind of merriment, the crowd of 7,031 in full throat along with him.
Few of them would have believed an hour prior that Washington would win this game against USC, 87-85, after trailing by 22 points with fewer than 14 minutes to play. That they would chisel that deficit with a 24-5 run that spanned only six and a half minutes. That they would then fall behind by seven points twice, but finish the game on a 9-0 run, take their first lead since early in the first half on Andrew Andrews’ putback basket with 25 seconds to play and leave Hec Ed with a 2-0 record to start Pac-12 play.
“It’s a special group,” Romar said. “You don’t get groups like this all the time.”
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And you don’t see games like this all the time. The 22-point comeback is the largest for a Romar team at UW — the largest margin the Huskies had overcome previously under Romar was 16 in a win at LSU on Dec. 29, 2007 — and provided a thrilling conclusion to a weekend that began with Friday’s double-overtime victory over UCLA.
“The whole time, we were just like, ‘we’re going to make a run, we’re going to make a run,’ ” said Andrews, who scored 24 points after tying a career high with 35 on Friday. “It starts on defense. That was our mindset through every timeout — once we start getting stops, we’ll come back.”
They did, thanks to two players in particular — Huskies guard Dejounte Murray, because he played his best game of the season, and Trojans guard Julian Jacobs, because he didn’t play at all.
Jacobs left the game with 16:18 remaining after he leapt for a rebound, landed and sprained his left ankle. Teammates carried him to the bench, and he didn’t return.
At that point, USC (12-3, 1-1) led 61-42 and seemed poised to run away with it. Jacobs had a lot to do with that — he scored 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting and began the second half with a pair of ferocious dunks. His ballhandling skills made it difficult for the Huskies to trap and press the Trojans in the backcourt, and USC controlled the game’s tempo because of that. They spent the first half tossing in easy baskets and holding Washington to just 25 percent shooting from the field.
With Jacobs out, the Huskies applied more pressure, forced turnovers and scrambled back into the game. Murray led that effort. He scored 18 of his career-high 29 points during the game’s final 13:30, a span in which UW outscored USC 43-19.
“I just stay aggressive, every single game,” Murray said. “It’s either going to go my way or it’s not. I just stayed aggressive, my team believed in me and everything was falling.”
Murray attacked the rim and scored. He drew fouls and made free throws. He made both of his 3-point attempts, including the one that cut the deficit to single digits for the first time since early in the first half, trimming USC’s lead to 71-63 with 8 minutes to play.
Andrews, David Crisp and Matisse Thybulle each made important 3-pointers in that span, too. But Murray was the catalyst.
With a little less than a minute remaining, Murray slashed to the hoop and scored to make it an 85-82 game. USC inbounded to sophomore guard Jordan McLaughlin, who was trapped and called for traveling, one of his eight turnovers. Murray drove to the rim and scored again, a short shot off the backboard. That made it a one-point game.
And again, the Huskies (10-4, 2-0) used their pressure to force a Trojans turnover, their 21st of the game, on a steal by Murray.
With 29 seconds remaining, Andrews sprinted to the hoop, grabbed a rebound and put it in the basket, giving the Huskies just their second lead of the game, this one at 86-85.
Elijah Stewart missed a shot on the other end. Andrews rebounded and split a pair of free throws. And Reinhardt couldn’t save the Trojans with his last-second heave.
“These wins are going to be so valuable for us, not only in the win-loss column, but in terms of our own psyche and our own belief within ourselves,” Romar said. “We come back in double overtime and beat UCLA, but now we can always say, ‘Fellas, we were down 21 with 15 minutes to go.’”
PLAYER OF THE GAME – Dejounte Murray played the best game of his young career. The freshman from Rainier Beach scored 29 points on 11-for-22 shooting from the field, was 5 of 6 from the free-throw line and also had five rebounds, two assists and three steals in 34 minutes. He scored 18 of UW’s 43 points in the game’s final 13 minutes and 30 seconds.
IT WAS OVER WHEN – Katin Reinhardt’s off-balance 3-pointer caromed off the rim at the buzzer.
STAT OF THE GAME – The Huskies outscored USC 43-19 in the final 13:30.
QUOTABLE – “I just think we’ve been blessed with a good combination of guys. Guys want to be here. They want to be here. They’re not renting out our program.” — Lorenzo Romar, speaking about his team’s cohesion
WHAT IT MEANS – Romar said after UW’s victory over UCLA on Friday, in which Bryce Alford twice hit 3-pointers to force overtime periods, that he had veteran teams in the past that weren’t able to overcome such circumstances. Well, he’d never had a team overcome a 22-point deficit before either. This is a good win because USC is a good team, first of all. But it can also be important for the long-term development of a young UW team figuring out how to win in the Pac-12.
UP NEXT – Washington at Washington State, 12 p.m. Saturday (Pac-12 Networks)