All night, the Huskies looked for something – anything – to give them a spark and provide the Alaska Airlines Arena crowd a reason to cheer.
PJ Fuller II produced a highlight early in the second half when he dived near midcourt to collect a turnover and flipped a pass from the floor to a darting Keyon Menifield for a fast-break dunk.
Franck Kepnang and Braxton Meah flushed a handful of alley-oop slams, which sustained Washington’s sputtering offense that was missing leading scorer Keion Brooks Jr., point guard Noah Williams and backup forward Jackson Grant to injuries.
But it was Menifield who provided the plays that mattered most and carried the Washington men’s basketball team to a hard-fought 75-67 nonconference victory against North Florida and improved to 2-0.
The rail-thin freshman guard from Flint, Michigan, finished a dazzling collegiate starting debut with 21 points on 7-for-21 shooting, three assists and two rebounds.
Down 56-53, Menifield drained a corner 3-pointer in front of the Husky bench that tied it at 56-56.
Jamal Bey, who recovered from 1-for-5 shooting in the first half, scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half, including a spurt of seven points in 1½ minutes to go ahead 65-61 with 3:58 remaining
And at the end, coach Mike Hopkins entrusted Menifield to orchestrate the offense and he responded with daring drives to the basket for layups, including a high-arcing shot in the paint that bounced off the rim for a 71-67 lead with 44.5 seconds left.
Whenever Menifield missed, Kepnang grabbed the offensive rebound for putbacks while finishing with 16 points and nine boards.
Washington shot 25.6%, including one of 10 on 3-pointers in the first half and trailed 34-28 at the break.
In the second half, the Huskies converted 57.6% from the field and held the Ospreys to 33.3%.
It’s been a long road trip for North Florida (0-2), which lost 104-63 Monday at No. 2 Gonzaga. The Ospreys were picked fifth in the 14-team ASUN preseason coaches poll.
Washington returns to action at 7 p.m. Monday for a nonconference home game against Utah Tech.