Two days after making the four-mile road trip and hammering Seattle University at the Key, the Huskies were back to their struggling ways at Hec Edmundson Pavilion on Saturday afternoon. UW, which was once-invincible at home but has already lost three games at Hec Ed this season, struggled to put away a surprisingly pesky Jackson State team 75-67.
The Huskies (6-4) led for all but 90 seconds but didn’t really put Jackson State away until the final minute. After JSU’s Christian Williams hit a 3-pointer to cut the UW lead to 70-67 with 5:15 remaining, the Tigers (0-8) did not score another point the rest of the way.
After beating Seattle by 13 points less than 48 hours earlier, Saturday’s win over a winless Jackson State team felt a bit hollow for the Huskies.
“We took a step back from the game the other night, that’s for sure,” Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said Saturday evening. “… Not a whole lot of positives we’ll take out of this game, and I’m usually a glass-half-full guy.”
Sharp-shooting duo C.J. Wilcox (21 points) and Scott Suggs (17) carried the scoring load again for UW, but even they had their share of struggles. Wilcox missed all six of his 3-point attempts in the first half before heating up to help UW keep the Tigers at arm’s length for the entire second half. Suggs went scoreless over the final 14 minutes, with a key turnover and a shot blocked along the way.
“I was tired,” Wilcox admitted afterward. “Me, Abdul (Gaddy) and Scott, we were all tired.”
And yet the Huskies showed some rare energy out of the gates, which had been a problem at Hec Ed in recent games. Runs of 11-2 and 16-2 put the Huskies ahead 27-11 midway through the first half, and it looked like this one would be a laugher all the way.
But JSU, which has yet to play a home game and already has five losses by margins of 18-plus points this season, battled back with a run of its own, outscoring the Huskies 20-6 over a five-minute stretch to pull within two points at 33-31. A Suggs 3-pointer and an Aziz N’Diaye follow in the closing seconds helped UW open up a 40-34 lead at the half.
That wasn’t good enough for Romar, who chastised his team at halftime for what Gaddy called “stuff that ticks coaches off.”
Several Huskies thought the game was over when UW opened up a 16-point, first-half lead — “I know I did,” Wilcox said — and Romar was the most upset when the Tigers got back in it.
“The last eight minutes or so were disappointing,” he said afterward. “Once you do that, now they’ve got a little life. It could have gone the other way, with us breaking their spirit. … You have to be mentally tougher.”
Wilcox got going early in the second half, but Jackson State found a rhythm from behind the 3-point arc to stay in contention. JSU’s Williams and Kelsey Howard combined for 23 second-half points, going 5-of-9 on 3-point attempts.
The Tigers made 5 of their first 11 shots from 3-point range after halftime, including Williams’ 3 with 5:24 remaining, pulling Jackson State within three points at 70-67.
The Tigers missed all six of their shots down the stretch, including two 3-pointers, and also had two costly turnovers. UW only took four free throws in that span, and eventually Jackson State just let the clock run out after Gaddy made an offensive rebound of a missed free throw with 18 seconds to go.
After the game, there was little celebration.
“I looked at the scoreboard several times when the horn sounded,” Romar said, “and we won.”
The Huskies gave up 13 offensive rebounds, turned the ball over 15 times and made just 12-of-26 free throws. They nearly got shocked by what may well be the easiest opponent on the 2012-13 schedule.
But as Gaddy said afterward: “We weren’t really looking at their record. We’re trying not to look at anyone’s record because ours isn’t the greatest.”
All that matters now is that UW can add another W to its record, and the Huskies are back on the winning track at Hec Ed after losing to Nevada the last time they played here.
“It doesn’t matter who we play,” Gaddy said, “whether we beat Jackson State by one, or North Carolina or Indiana, it’s still a win.”
It just didn’t really feel like that at Hec Ed early Saturday evening.
The Huskies played without guards Andrew Andrews (ankle) and Quinn Sterling (foot). Hikeem Stewart played 18 minutes despite hyperextending his knee in the second half of Thursday night’s win over Seattle University. ... The most emotional moment of the day came before Saturday’s game, when an elementary-school choir from Auburn walked onto the court to a moment of silence for the Newtown, Conn., tragedy and then sang the national anthem with typically youthful exuberance.
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