UW guard Jaylen Nowell and Carlos Johnson talk about team's 86-82 win over Belmont
As expected, Mike Hopkins yelled. He grimaced. He pumped his fist. He stomped his feet. He questioned calls.
And in the end, he squeezed out a victory in his head-coaching debut for the Washington Huskies.
There was another person making his UW debut as well Friday – true freshman Jaylen Nowell, the former Garfield High School standout.
Nowell poured in a game-high 32 points, including the decisive free throws with 8.2 seconds to go, and the Huskies toppled Ohio Valley Conference powerhouse Belmont, 86-82, at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
The UW smartly fouled Austin Luke with 4.5 seconds remaining. The Bruins guard made the first free throw, then deliberately tried missing the second one.
He did, but Matisse Thybulle grabbed the rebound and was immediately fouled.
Thybulle calmly sank both free throws with 3.5 seconds to go to seal up this victory.
Nowell tallied 25 of his 32 points in the second half in helping the Huskies rally from a 10-point deficit. Hopkins called it the best game he’s ever seen from a true freshman in his first college game, and that includes Carmelo Anthony (27 points against Memphis) at Syracuse where he was a former assistant.
“He’s got special cloth,” Hopkins said.
A year after losing their season opener to Yale (98-90) in former coach Lorenzo Romar’s final season, the Huskies rallied to get their new coach a big victory.
And it came against a quality program that has won 20 or more games, and reached the postseason in 11 of its past 12 seasons — including seven NCAA Tournament appearances.
And the Bruins notoriously do one thing extremely well – shoot the 3-pointer.
In fact, other than Duke, no school has made more 3-pointers over the past 20 years than Belmont. The Bruins made 10 of them Friday night.
But it was Belmont’s inside scoring that kept them in the lead for much of the game – until Nowell came through with 11 points in the final 3:39.
“They just kept fighting,” Hopkins said of the Huskies. “And then they executed down the stretch.”
Nowell’s top-of-the-arc 3-pointer gave the UW its first lead of the second half — 76-74 — at the 2:22 mark.
Nick Hopkins, who led Belmont with 22 points, in the last of his six 3-pointers 16 seconds later gave the Bruins the lead again.
The lead changed hands five times down the stretch, with Belmont grabbed its final one on Dylan Windler’s floater over Nowell with 51.8 seconds remaining.
But on UW’s next possession, Nowell flew right by Windler for an easy bucket, and the Huskies never trailed again.
“I just came out focused on the win,” Nowell said.
And it gave Mike Hopkins a lifelong memory.
“It is one of those memories and moments that I will remember for the rest of my life,” Hopkins said.