In what could best be described as a tournament game in November, the home Huskies showed a new found defensive intensity in the 2nd half and beat a solid, veteran Northern Iowa team 70-61, in front of a near sell out at the Bank of America Arena. The Panthers were a confident bunch of mature veterans and scrappy Midwesterners, and Coach Ben Jacobsen echoed that confidence.
"We felt like we had a chance to win this basketball game, when we walked out here tonight. Outside of this locker room, there wasn't anybody in here that thought this was going to be a close game."
Husky head man Lorenzo Romar seemed to be fully aware of the challenge that this top Missouri Valley Conference program presented to his young, impressionable team and what a good lesson it would be for them.
"In our third game I don't think that we could have asked for a better game. That is a good team that we played tonight both offensively and defensively. They have two or three starters from NCAA tournament teams, so they know how to compete and win games."
"This was a great opportunity for us to step up and see what we were made of. It was one of those games where it's like the water is cold and they pushed us right in. We had to learn how to survive right there, we had to learn how to swim. They came out and they were the more aggressive team early, but we gained our composure and we became aggressive."
Northern Iowa was led by it's big men, Grant Stout, a six foot eight inch versatile big man that can shoot, Eric Coleman a six foot eight (he's listed at 6'6", but that's a joke) guy with some of the longest arms in college basketball and young Jordan Eglseder a 7'1" freshman with a soft touch.
Stout finished with 17 points and 10 boards, Coleman with 16 and 9 before fouling out as the game was slipping away at 1:21 to go and Eglseder added 7 points, surprisingly without a single rebound.
Slashing guard Travis Brown added 6 creating on the break and off the dribble and Adam Viet, did his job to bury a couple of open threes, but the Panthers win or lose with their efficient and experienced pair of bigs Stout and Coleman.
Coach Jacobsen felt that his pair was undaunted by the more highly publicized Washington duo of Spencer Hawes and Jon Brockman.
"Grant and Eric have been in these games before. So we knew where we were going with the basketball. With all due respect to Brockman and Hawes, we've been in this situation before."
Coach Romar also had respect for the big guys from Northern Iowa and complimented his group for the job they did in the second half on them defensively.
"Their big guys are seniors and they're tough, that's a pretty good combination. Stout is really skilled and Coleman is really good around the basket. We were a little concerned about those two guys and they kind of had their way with us in the first half. We did a nice job in the second half covering them and staying out of foul trouble."
The game started off with the Washington team shooting very poorly in the first half, as well as getting a number of unlucky bounces and rolls. Shots bounded in and out and in and out of the bucket, while Husky big men Hawes and Brockman struggled to be effective.
Hawes seemed to be forcing things as he got the ball in low, amidst double and triple teaming and erroneously put the ball on the floor, where it was stolen or knocked away numerous times. At the end of the first half he was 2-6 from the field for 4 points and 4 costly turnovers.
Brockman was in foul trouble getting his 3rd with 5:39 to go in the first half. He managed only 2 points by halftime and really had only himself to blame. He got his 4th foul only 1:43 into the 2nd half, but was able to log 9 minutes in the 2nd half, playing tentatively and having to allow for some rather uncontested shots from Panther big men in the process.
He made a couple of key plays however, including a 17 foot shot down the stretch and 3 of 4 at the line, during the last six minutes of the ball game. It was in that key run that the Dawgs won this game that had been tightly contested, if not slightly controlled by Northern Iowa.
Washington went on a 22-9 run that sealed the Panther's fate down the stretch. The tide began to turn when, at the 2:09 mark Justin Dentmon gave the Dawgs a 6 point bulge on a coast to coast following a Hawes block at the cup that brought down the house.
From that point on it was a time management game with Washington going 8-8 from the line and the Panthers missing the front end of a one and one twice, one after a questionable player control foul by Ryan Appleby and the other after Brockman's 5th at the 0:28 mark.
But the sideshow of Brockman's foul woes was only a footnote to the low post offensive clinic put on by Hawes in the 2nd half. He hit 4 pretty shots in the post, plus went 4-4 from the line after drawing fouls in the act to finish with 16 points in this tight defensive struggle in which points were as hard to come by.
Panther Head Coach Jacobsen seemed a bit haunted by the fact that Hawes tipped this close game to the Dawgs. "If it wasn't the hook shot, it was the turnaround. If it wasn't the left hand, it was the right hand."
"He's really good. He's as good as advertised."
Coach Romar was more guarded with his comments about Spencer, but he seemed pleased with the progress over the last week, since the freshman center returned to the team.
"I have been saying all along that it's not automatic all of the sudden that we will reach the Final Four just because Spencer is here because he's only a freshman. It takes time and not only is he a freshman, but remember now he has only practiced three days so far this season."
"This was his first real challenge and he adjusted to it. He had to make some adjustments at first, but I think that he did that."
He added a total of 3 blocks, finished with 7 boards in 30 minutes of action and seemed to provide Husky fans with another glimpse at his bag of tricks. On Sunday it was the passer, racking up 7 assists and helping his old buddy Brockman set a single game scoring high as a Dawg. Last night it was as a decoy, with Nicholls State opting to employ a tight zone rather than let Hawes and Brockman do their thing two nights in a row, but opening the perimeter up to the tune of a school record 17 three point buckets.
But tonight it was the low post scoring threat, breaking up a stalemated game with a run of right and left hooks and helping fill out the stat sheet in the personal foul department for the opponent. He makes shots that really don't have a very good chance of being defended at his height and if the Huskies were to get him 20-25 attempts down there in an evening, my feeling is that he would end up with at least 20 and probably closer to 30 points, night in night out, including a bucket load of fouls on the other guys and a handful of nice assists to boot.
Spencer recognized that he was kind of forcing things early and seemed to make the adjustments in the 2nd half. "I think I might have been pushing it a little bit early, but then the coaches reiterated to me to just simplify. 'You're overcomplicating things, just go with your bread and butter' and I think that paid off."
Brockman confirmed that the team keeps the big guy firmly in their sights by saying, "Spencer can do a lot with the ball down low so I think he's going to be a focus every game for us."
Though the thought of game planning for Hawes is surely vexing numerous future Washington opponents, Dentmon was the MVP of the Basketball Travelers Classic. He shot 8-16 from behind the arc over the three day event, went 8-8 from the line and 14-27 from the field. He led the team in assists 2 of the 3 nights and averaged over 4 rebounds per game.
It was also the way that he just did what needed to be done. In the Peppedine game he handled the pressure, often single handedly. In the Nicholls State game, after a poor outside shooting performance the night before, he ignited the three festivities. Finally against the best of the three opponents in the championship, in a game where buckets were hard earned, he led the team in scoring, tying a career high that he set last year against Gonzaga.
It was his leadership that really impressed though. He's always coming into the action with that wise, confident grin that seems to say, "That's nothing. C'mon and show me something that I should actually be scared of". Romar praised his sophomore point guard and agreed with the honors he received.
"He deserves the MVP. He let the game come to him and he only had two turnovers tonight. He just did a good job of controlling the tempo and he played well out there for us."
Having Bobby Jones come in and give a pep talk had to help energize the team at half-time and you could tell in the body language of Dentmon, Appleby and the rest in the 2nd half, that something that was said by Bobby and obviously the coaches had an effect.
Appleby also showed what we can expect to see from him on many future nights, as he put across 3-6 from three and a startling pair of shots off the dribble in the key, one that went for a three point play. He ended up with 14 on 5-9 from the field and had a nice edge to his game on the defensive end, causing a number of annoyances to the Panther guards and consistently held up his own end in what was a much improved team defense in the 2nd half.
Quincy Pondexter had an off performance in the scoring column with 6 points on 2-6 from the field, but also was an aid to the defensive team effort and collected 5 rebounds. Adrian Oliver did a better job of playing hard without fouling and chipped in 6 points on 3-5 from the field and another respectable 5 caroms from his guard position.
Artem Wallace had one great score on a Hawes-like left right left baseline fade away and a couple of tough rebounds. Brandon Burmeister, Hans Gasser and Phillip Nelson all played small roles, but Hans did log 15 minutes of fairly solid supportive ball, including a couple of boards.
Harvey Perry did not play, but coach Romar said that he was not hurt. After making a few too many poor plays with the ball in the first two games and committing 9 fouls in a total of 24 minutes, perhaps Romar may have wanted to send him a message, by sitting him, though I have no idea what the reason was that he never took off his warm-up jacket.
Aside from Dentmon being awarded the MVP trophy for the Basketball Travelers Tournament, he was also on the All-Tournament Team, along with team mate Brockman, tireless warrior guard Adonis Gray of Nicholls State, effective slasher Marvin Lea of Pepperdine and post tandem Coleman and Stout of Northern Iowa.