SEATTLE – Half an hour after Washington State’s 79-74 victory over Washington, Malachi Flynn emerged from the locker room and reentered Alaska Airlines Arena.
About 40 of the 9,259 fans who had observed the game in person, all of them adorned head-to-toe in crimson, rose from their perches behind the WSU bench and gave the freshman guard an ovation.
Because while UW’s freshman point guard Markelle Fultz had the insane stat line and the reputation befitting a future NBA star, Flynn, the local kid, was Sunday’s star.
“We think Mal is just as good (as Fultz), and he showed that tonight,” said senior forward Josh Hawkinson.
Flynn scored two key baskets in the final minute of Sunday’s down-to-the-wire rivalry game. With 48.6 seconds left and the game tied at 71, Flynn went to his left off a pick-and-roll and blew past David Crisp from the top of the key and made a layup to give the Cougars the lead.
“The pick-and-roll was good, it was a good screen,” Flynn said. “It hit David a little bit, so when I just slowed up a little bit and then bursted out, it gave me enough space to go and finish.”
Fultz missed his layup in response, and then with 14 seconds left, Flynn replicated his play from the previous possession, but this time on the right side of the key, but again shooting past a defender from outside the 3-point arc and scoring at the cup.
“I’ve often talked about Malachi, and I’ve compared him to (Oregon stars) Luke Ridnour and Aaron Brooks,” coach Ernie Kent said. “I don’t know if Brooks could have played like this in his freshman year. He did his senior year. But for a freshman to come back home, in this environment, and have the poise – not only to want the ball but have the poise to make the plays consistently, that shows you his potential greatness down the road.”
For much of the game, it was Fultz whose play suggested greatness, not at some future date but right now in what is sure to be his only college season. The freshman finished one rebound shy of UW’s first-ever triple-double, settling for 26 points, 11 assists and nine boards.
He even appeared to be the premier crunch-time player, putting the Huskies up four points with 2:34 left in the game by hitting a 3-pointer with Hawkinson’s hand in his face and just one second left on the shot clock.
Then Flynn, who played his prep ball at Tacoma’s Bellarmine Prep, calmly took over, scoring eight of his 16 points after Fultz’s bucket.
Nobody does New Year’s resolutions quite like Ernie Kent. The Cougars had not won a Pac-12 game since Jan. 3, 2016. They had also not won a Pac-12 opener on the road sine Jan. 5, 2008, also at UW.
The win in Seattle is always particularly sweet for Cougars players who hail from western Washington, such as Hawkinson, Flynn, Robert Franks and Viont’e Daniels.
Hawkinson got the last laugh against the student section that chanted “UW rejects!” at him while he shot free throws, leading the Cougars (8-5, 1-0 Pac-12) with 26 points and eight rebounds.
“I normally have big games when I’ve come back here,” Hawkinson said. “Just some extra motivation with my mom playing for UW and them not offering me a scholarship, coming here and playing for Wazzu, I feel like I have something to prove when I come back to my backyard basically.”
The Cougars have struggled to fill seats in Beasley Coliseum all year, but had a good fan turnout for the rivalry road game. They hope to coax more fans to their next game, Wednesday at 8 p.m. against Oregon State, by playing it at the Spokane Arena.
“I’m hoping that people will come across town and come out and see this team,” Kent said. “They deserve a good crowd up there in their second conference game, because they will respond.”