Thomas’ 30 points leads No. 14 UW in opener
By GREGG BELL
AP Sports Writer
SEATTLE (AP) – Isaiah Thomas immediately answered Washington’s call for more scoring this season with a career-high 30 points, and the No. 14 Huskies held on for a 74-69 victory over Wright State on Friday night.
Thomas was 7 of 14 from the field and 14 of 18 from the line for the defending Pac-10 champions, who nearly frittered away an 18-point lead and their highest preseason ranking since 1985 on the opening night of the round-robin Athletes In Action Classic.
Thomas had 18 points in the highest-scoring first half of his college career.
Todd Brown scored 21 points and N’Gai Evans added 17 for the Raiders, who are picked to finish second this season in the Horizon League.
Brown kept them close early by scoring seven points, but during one stretch he didn’t score for almost 15 minutes. Wright State fell behind by as many as 18 in Brown’s dry spell.
Wright State was missing its other preseason selection for all Horizon League, Vaughn Duggins. The Raiders’ leading returning scorer is missing all three weekend games in Seattle after being charged with driving under the influence this summer.
The Raiders were also missing point guard John David Gardner, who had hip surgery last month, so their 49-31 deficit 3 minutes into the second half wasn’t surprising.
But a 10-1 run, ended by a 3-pointer from Brown, rallied them to within 60-54 with 5 minutes left. A steal by Scott Grote and driving basket by Evans made it 64-58 with 2:51 left.
A free throw by Washington’s Thomas, a turnover when Ronnie Thomas muffed an inbounds pass and a miss by Evans with 80 seconds left doomed Wright State’s comeback.
Quincy Pondexter’s lay-in off a whip pass from Venoy Overton put Washington up 68-58 in the final minute, and the Huskies plus their crowd finally exhaled. A 3-pointer by Cooper Land with 19.5 seconds left made it 71-65, but Scott Suggs made two clinching free throws.
With star Jon Brockman gone to the NBA, Washington is relying on Thomas to return his record-setting scoring roots as a high school phenom in University Place, Wash.
The scorching start from last season’s Pac-10 freshman of the year equaled his highest scoring half at Washington. Thomas twice scored 18 points in the second half last season, against UCLA and Morgan State.
The 5-foot-8 dynamo had 14 points in the first 13 minutes of the game. His 3-point play while spinning past Evans and then banking in a shot as he fell across the base line was part of the Huskies’ game-breaking, 11-0 run midway through the first half.
The halftime break didn’t cool Thomas, who immediately added to the Huskies’ 40-28 lead with another 3-pointer to begin the second half.
Wright State tried almost everything and everybody to stay with Thomas, even inadvertently whacking him twice in the jaw and face. He glared through the lack of whistles and kept on scoring.
The four-team, round-robin event at Hec Edmundson Pavilion will be only time this season Washington will play on consecutive days – until, it hopes, the Pac-10 tournament in March. The event in Los Angeles could require games on a Thursday night, Friday night and a Saturday championship game.
This weekend includes Saturday night’s game against Belmont and Sunday’s against Portland State, which has made the NCAA tournament the last two springs.