For the second consecutive game, the Washington Huskies men’s basketball team played with the kind of passion and desire that has seemingly eluded them so many times this season.
For the second consecutive game, that energy and give-a-darn was mostly restricted to the second half, during which the Huskies had to scramble — again — to make up for a double-digit halftime deficit.
This time, they got the thing to overtime, Markelle Fultz carrying the team in the final minutes, a five-guard lineup showing the requisite energy to create this comeback in spite of UW’s obvious shortcomings.
But it was a David Crisp 3-pointer with 27 seconds remaining in that extra period that gave UW the lead for good, allowing the Huskies to escape with a wild, 85-83 comeback victory before a pleasantly surprised crowd of 6,416 on Wednesday night at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
“I think this is huge for us, building our confidence,” Fultz said. “We all knew we could do it but to finally see it happen, I think we’re just going to go uphill from here.”
The Huskies (9-9, 2-4 in Pac-12) pulled back to .500 on the season, and Colorado (10-9, 0-6) remained winless in league play.
“This was a great character win,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “(We were) down and guys came back in the second half and scrapped like crazy. Markelle Fultz was sensational tonight, just took the team on his back.”
The first half did not suggest such a competitive atmosphere. The Buffaloes closed the half on an 11-2 run to take a 39-24 lead into halftime — reminiscent of UW’s 43-24 deficit last week at Stanford — and led by as many as 17 points early in the second half.
“We were just in this position,” Romar said. “We know we can come back.”
Fultz, the star freshman guard, continues to make this team watchable by himself. He led UW with 37 points and eight assists, driving for tough layups and pulling up for smooth jumpers.
Fultz led a quick 7-0 run early in the second half that trimmed CU’s lead to single digits, David Crisp made a 3-pointer with 11:29 to play that cut it to eight, then another that cut it to seven. But CU responded quickly, first with a driving score by guard Derrick White, then with a 3-pointer by Xavier Johnson, and led 54-42 with 9:53 to play.
Dominic Green, who finished with 11 points, hit two more big shots — a 3-pointer and a layup after a nice baseline cut — and Fultz drove for a layup after a CU turnover to cut the lead to 56-50 with 7:34 left, the smallest margin since the first half.
UW’s five-guard lineup, necessitated by Noah Dickerson’s foul trouble, allowed UW to spread Colorado out and chip away at the lead.
“They weren’t really going inside a lot,” Romar said, “so we felt if we went small we wouldn’t get hurt as much because the ball wasn’t going inside.”
CU pushed it back to 58-50. Crisp made another 3-pointer. Fultz made a stepback jumper. After CU’s Wesley Gordon split a pair of free throws, Thybulle drove for a layup to make it 59-57. Fultz made a free throw to make it 59-58.
Johnson answered with a bucket and a foul, making the free throw to push CU’s lead to 62-58. Again, UW answered, first with a long jumper by Fultz, then with a driving layup by Fultz following a steal that tied the game with 1:34 to play.
Dominique Collier made one of two free throws to put CU back ahead. Fultz immediately drove on Gordon, drew a foul and made both free throws to give UW its first lead of the second half, 66-65, with 46 seconds left.
After forcing a CU miss and securing the rebound on the ensuing possession, Dickerson made one of two free throws with 20.8 seconds left to give the Huskies a 67-65 lead. But Johnson, who led CU with 24 points, tied it with a layup and Fultz’s last-second shot was blocked.
Overtime was just as frenetic. UW twice took a four-point lead, but White, who scored 23 points, scored five points in 25 seconds to put CU back ahead.
Fultz scored, was fouled and made the free throw. King scored, was fouled and made the free throw. Dickerson scored, was fouled and missed the free throw. Johnson dunked. Fultz made two more free throws, giving the Huskies an 80-79 lead with 45.4 seconds remaining.
CU moved back in front on Johnson’s basket with 33 seconds left. Then came Crisp’s biggest shot, a 3-pointer in transition from the left wing with 27 seconds left to give the Huskies a two-point lead. He was wide open.
“I knew it was going to be a bucket,” said Crisp, who scored 14 points.
And after Collier missed a corner 3-pointer, Crisp rebounded, was fouled and made two free throws to put UW ahead by two possessions.
Finally, the Huskies held on, a 17-point comeback victory complete in a fashion altogether thrilling and agonizing.
Game in review
Player of the game: Has to be Markelle Fultz, who set a career high with 37 points on 13-of-24 shooting from the field and hitting 11 of 15 from the free-throw line with eight assists and five rebounds. He made multiple shots and free throws late in the second half and overtime that kept the Huskies in the game and gave them a chance to win.
Play of the game: Six seconds after Xavier Johnson had given Colorado a one-point lead with 33 seconds to play, UW guard David Crisp pulled up for a 3-pointer from the left wing in transition and made it to give the Huskies an 83-81 lead.
Stat of the game: The Huskies made 6 of 10 from 3-point range in the second half after making only 1 for 12 in the first half, one of the reasons they trailed by 15 points at halftime.
What it means: Colorado is now 0-6 in Pac-12 play, so the Buffaloes obviously aren’t among the conference’s elite. But they don’t lack for talent or experience, and the fact that UW was able to overcome a 17-point deficit in the second half suggests the Huskies haven’t given up on this season yet.
Quotable: “We’ll find out. It should. I think our guys have a healthy respect for Utah. They know how solid Utah is. They’re one of the more solid teams in this league. They don’t give games away. They just don’t do it. I know it definitely helps our confidence to walk into that game Saturday knowing we’re coming off a hard-fought character win.” – UW coach Lorenzo Romar on this game providing a boost
Up next: Washington vs. Utah, 5 p.m. Saturday, Pac-12 Network.
Christian Caple: firstname.lastname@example.org