SEATTLE – Nate Roberts tried to crack a smile, and more than once during a postgame interview the Husky forward stressed it’s a long season in an attempt to move past the Washington men’s basketball team’s disastrous 71-64 nonconference defeat against Northern Illinois on Tuesday night at Alaska Airlines Arena.
Indeed, it’s a long season.
UW has 30 more regular-season games to erase an embarrassing performance against the visiting Mid-American Conference upstart with a first-year coach that was 326th among 358 teams in KenPom rankings entering Tuesday.
It’s impossible to know if the Huskies’ season opener was an aberration or a harbinger of what lies ahead.
Certainly, embattled Mike Hopkins, who was the Pac-12 Coach of the Year winner his first two years at UW, has lost the benefit of the doubt following two straight losing seasons, including a 5-21 record last season.
It’s a short turnaround before Thursday’s game against Northern Arizona, but here are a few thoughts about Game 1 for the Huskies.
Terrell Brown Jr. needs help
It’s easy to see the 23-year-old Brown, who played at Arizona last season and starred at Seattle University for two years, is UW’s most dangerous offensive weapon – even on an off shooting night. The 6-foot-3 point guard converted just 9 of 24 attempts and was 0 for 2 on 3-pointers, but he finished with a team-high 22 points in his UW debut. He also had five rebounds, three assists and three steals to offset two turnovers.
Brown made nearly half of Washington’s field goals. The rest of the Huskies were 11 of 51 from the floor.
Brown is unflappable and poised, which were traits that served him well when Washington trailed by double digits most of the night. He was able to get into the lane for midrange shots, but the Huskies may need him to be playmaker considering they had just five assists.
Aside from Brown, Daejon Davis, Emmitt Matthews Jr. and PJ Fuller also made their UW debuts in less than spectacular fashion. The trio combined to shoot 4 of 26 on field goals for 14 points.
Obviously, if they don’t improve UW isn’t going to win many games this season.
The three made some nice defensive plays and brought energy in the second half to spark a rally in which UW briefly took the lead. But they have to figure out how they can be effective on the offensive end.
Davis was 1-of-10 shooting, including 0 for 4 on 3-pointers. Making matters worse, he had one assist and four turnovers.
Matthews (2-of-12 shooting) had difficulty finishing around the rim in traffic.
Fuller just looked out of sync.
Roberts is a rebounding machine
Foul trouble limited Roberts to just eight minutes in the first half. However, in the second half, he collected 16 rebounds in 17 minutes. Roberts finished with a career-high 19, which was the most for a UW player since Noah Dickerson had 22 on Nov. 12, 2017.
Roberts is limited scoring-wise, and his 4-for-9 shooting on free throws Tuesday night makes him an offensive liability. But for long stretches, the 6-foot-10 senior forward exhibited the most passion of any UW player and the Huskies need a little emotion right now.
Hopkins said Washington, which trailed 33-17 in the first half, came out flat and he took the blame for that. But a coach standing on a sideline in a suit – even one who is as animated as Hopkins – can only do so much to inspire a team. At some point, leaders have to emerge within the locker room.
Roberts is a two-year starter and captain. Considering UW’s backcourt consists of relatively soft-spoken players, including two-year starter Jamal Bey, it appears it’s going to fall to Roberts to vocally hold his team accountable and demand better results.
If not, then it will truly be a long season.
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