SEATTLE – It was as predictable as a coffee spill at Starbucks that Julius Hodge would have the ball in the waning seconds with the game on the line.
Sure enough, with the clock ticking down and his team down two points, the 6-foot-7 star swingman for North Carolina State and reigning ACC Player of the Year drove the lane past Washington’s Nate Robinson and launched himself a foot from the basket.
There to meet him was Brandon Roy, who had missed the previous five games with an injured knee. As Hodge tried to lay the ball in, Roy leaped right with him.
To say Roy bothered Hodge’s shot is akin to saying the Exxon Valdes irritated a few scallops.
“I knew he was going to go up to shoot it,” Roy said. “He went up and I kind of tipped it before I actually got high enough and it slipped out of his hands. I got a slight piece of it and it messed his timing up.”
The Huskies gained possession of the the ball and Tre Simmons hit two free throws to close the show, a 68-64 thriller won by the 8-1 and 18th-ranked Huskies over the 12th-ranked Wolfpack (8-1) Sunday before a wild, sellout throng at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
Although it was but a small fraction of the heart-pounding classic, the final 10 seconds had it all: stunning athleticism, to-the-death competition and a little controversy.
Controversy, because more than a few expected a whistle after Roy’s game-saving defense. Hodge complained to officials that he was hammered.
“I asked Julius and he said he got hit with the body,” N.C. State coach Herb Sendek said. “I believe him. From my angle, it looked like he did.”
“I went straight up,” he said. “If he wouldn’t have lost the ball and went straight at me, I think he would have maybe gotten the call. But since he was kind of fumbling for the ball, he didn’t have a lot of control of it, so they let it go by.”
Said a grinning UW guard Will Conroy: “Great no-call. That was a tough one. Hodge probably gets that call nine out of 10 times.”
With the victory, the Huskies repaid the Wolfpack for last season’s 78-72 loss at N.C. State’s home court. Just as that game was, Sunday’s was a magnificent matchup between two shoo-ins for the NCAA Tournament: College basketball at its highest level.
Washington held several leads of five to seven points, but couldn’t shake the visitors. Slowed down to a virtual crawl, the usually high-tempo Huskies got away with playing at a slower speed, at a level more comfortable for N.C. State.
Then, too, was the shooting issue. Washington shot just 45 percent from the field and was just 2-of-13 from beyond the 3-point line. Robinson, the Huskies’ star guard who averaged 22.5 points a game coming in, was just 2-for-11 shooting from the floor. From the free-throw line, Washington was just 12-for-21.
“The game was obviously a huge gamer for us coming in,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “It was an even bigger game the way we won it because we didn’t shoot the ball well from the perimeter and we didn’t make foul shots. But we still found a way to win.”
Instead, Washington took it with dogged defense and a nine-rebound advantage, two areas in which the Huskies hardly specialize.
The Wolfpack shot just 40 percent from the floor, including just 5-of-23 3-pointers. Hodge finished with 15 points, four below his average, and got off just 10 shots in 35 minutes. Roy, Bobby Jones, Simmons and even the 5-foot-8 Robinson took turns guarding the Wolfpack star.
“Coach (Romar) says great teams win games in different ways,” Robinson said. “We did it on defense. We still shared the ball, even if we weren’t knocking down the shots. We just out-scrapped them.”
Simmons and Conroy led the Huskies with 12 points apiece. Roy, who made all five of his shots from the floor, added 10. Guard Cameron Bannerman led N.C. State with 16 points.