With Markelle Fultz back in the lineup after missing two games with a sore knee, the Huskies get off to slow start and see losing streak extended to eight games.
Ebony Fultz flew 2,800 miles from Maryland to Seattle with daughter Shauntese and they sat together in the front row at Alaska Airlines Arena – perhaps a telltale sign Markelle Fultz was ready to return from a two-game layoff due to a sore right knee.
The Huskies star point guard wasn’t going to be a spectator after his mother and sister made the long trek to the Northwest.
Besides the Washington men’s basketball team desperately needed its leader if it had any hopes of snapping a month-long losing streak and collecting its first win since Jan. 18.
Despite Fultz’s return and a career-best performance from backup guard Carlos Johnson, the Huskies came up short in the final minutes during an 83-81 defeat in front of 6,910 at Alaska Airlines Arena.
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The game was decided on the final play when Fultz’s halfcourt three-point attempt hit the front of the rim. He finished with 19 points.
The Huskies (9-17, 2-12 Pac-12) suffered their eighth straight defeat.
Washington, which endured double-digit losses on the road last week without Fultz, fell behind 13-2 in the opening minutes and was down 30-15 midway in the first half.
At that point, coach Lorenzo Romar tried a little bit to stem the tide. He went to the bench five times and brought in reserves Dominic Green, Devenir Duruisseau, Carlos Johnson, Dan Kingma and Bitumba Baruti while trying to find a spark.
Finally, Romar turned to a five-guard lineup that at times included Fultz, David Crisp, Matisse Thybulle and a rotation of reserves.
After falling into a 15-point hole, the Huskies closed the first half with a 26-9 run capped by Fultz’s long jumper that put UW ahead 41-39 at halftime — the first lead of the game for Washington.
It was also just the third time this season the Huskies were up at the break against a Pac-12 opponent. They lost two of those games, including a heartbreaking 82-74 defeat to USC the last time it happened.
Romar criticized his team for being too carefree in that game. This time the UW coach continued to make quick substitutions and rotated the defenses from man-to-man schemes to a 2-3 zone.
The Huskies also benefited from a career performance from Johnson, who provided feats of athleticism and grit that’s been missing most of the season. He finished with 18 points and eight rebounds off the bench – both career highs.
However, Johnson had difficulty containing Obinna Oleka. The 6-foot-8, 225-pound senior center took advantage of a favorable matchup against the 6-3 UW guard.
Oleka scored on back-to-back dunks and a putback during an 8-2 spurt that gave Arizona State a 77-71 lead with 5:10 left.
Washington’s offense went cold in the final five minutes and managed just two field goals, including Crisp’s three-pointer that cut its deficit to 80-77 with 1:08 left.
On the Huskies’ next possession, Fultz missed a layup and Johnson was given a Flagrant 1 foul while wrestling Tra Holder for the rebound. The ASU guard retaliated and pushed Johnson and was given a technical.
Both teams made two free throws, which preserved ASU’s three-point lead with 9.8 seconds left.
Then Fultz misfired on a three-pointer and Kingma cleaned up the miss while scoring on a putback with 2 seconds left.
Torian Graham hit the first of two free throws before ASU was penalized on a lane violation that gave the Huskies one last chance trailing by two points with 1.1 seconds.
Kingma found Fultz at midcourt and he turned around and fired a 50-foot heave that hit the front of the rim.