Almost from the moment UVU senior guard TJ Washington came off the bench in Saturday’s WAC men’s basketball battle against UTRGV at the UCCU Center in Orem, he was a force to be reckoned with for the visiting Vaqueros.
Whether he was splitting the defense to lay the ball softly high off the glass for a layup or pulling up for a huge, shot-clock-beating 3-pointer, Washington was huge for the Wolverine offense.
Given that he led the team with 19 points, it’s hard to blame the UTRGV defense for trying to hem him in as he brought the ball up the court in a tie game with about 10 seconds left to play.
Of course, that’s just what Washington wanted.
“I got the ball with 11 seconds left,” Washington said. “I knew once I didn’t see the double team that I could either create a play for my teammates or make something happen. They came and helped on me at the rim and I really saw two teammates. I could’ve picked either one. I just hit Isaiah (White) and he hit the game-winner.”
His assist to junior forward Isaiah White set up the thrilling game-winning layup as UVU beat the Vaqueros, 72-70.
“We had told TJ in the last timeout the play we wanted to go to,” Wolverine head coach Mark Madsen said. “They went to a trap to get the ball out of his hands but TJ made a great read. What I was really happy with was that instead of taking the 3-pointer — and he’s a really good shooter — he had the presence of mind to attack. He was going to draw a foul or create for a teammate. It was great recognition as a point guard.
“And then there was Isaiah White. If you get that ball underneath the rim with 1 or 2 seconds left, a lot of guys fumble it or it goes off their hands. He picked that thing up and put it right in for the game-winner.”
White said that it was such a natural play that it took a second for the significance to sink in.
“I was just in the moment and it happened really fast,” White said. “He passed it to me, I caught it and I laid it up. Then I realized, ‘oh, that’s game!’ That’s when I got pumped up. It was a great pass.”
There was still the matter of there being 1.3 seconds for the Vaqueros to come up with a miracle but UTRGV couldn’t get a shot off in time and UVU finally got back on the winning track.
“We have been on a tough stretch,” Washington said. “It’s disappointing because we’ve seen how good we can be. Losing close games because we aren’t doing the little things is disappointing. Coming together today, doing the little things right and getting the W feels good.”
White said: “You get tired of losing. We had to come together and we came together today.”
Madsen lauded Washington for making a big difference during his time on the floor.
“TJ Washington is someone who has a huge heart,” Madsen said. “It’s like the heart of a lion. He fights and battles. Once practice starts, he is one of our most consistent workers. He never takes a day off. I thought TJ really did a nice job down the stretch. We ran an action that was working and they couldn’t adjust to it. TJ was able to exploit that.”
White said he wasn’t surprised to see his senior teammate take the lead.
“He performance was huge,” White said. “I know TJ. I know he can play like that. That’s how he plays. Seeing him play like that today, hopefully that builds us as a team. He played great.”
UVU needed a spark after the Wolverines fell behind 18-8 in the early going.
“We got off to a slow start but a couple of guys came off the bench and gave energy,” Washington said. “That got us back into the game and after that we just had to take care of business.”
Madsen agreed that players like Washington and junior guard Jamison Overton made a big difference for the team.
“It was great energy off the bench,” Madsen said. “You can’t win games without contributions from everyone in the game. Tonight what you saw was just guys stepping up and making huge plays.”
In addition to Washington’s 19 points, the Wolverines also got 16 points and eight rebounds from Overton, while senior forward Emmanuel Olojakpoke finished with seven points and five blocked shots.
“I was proud of our guys,” Madsen said. “I was proud of how they went out there and executed the game plan. You can’t say enough about every player that stepped on the court.”
UTRGV was paced by 21 points from senior forward Lesley Varner II.
UVU (8-12, 2-3) now heads back on the road to play at Bakersfield at 8 p.m. MT on Thursday.