LAHAINA, Hawaii — Washington senior Justin Holiday shuffled into the sun, heading toward Washington’s post-game transportation home.
His head was down, likely causing Holiday to miss the rainbow stumped into the mountains just east of the Lahaina Civic Center.
This was no time for rainbows or pots of gold. Washington had just finished a 76-71 lead-losing disappointment against No. 2 Michigan State. The Huskies, who arrived on this lush island with ambitions to prove they belong in the big show, will go home with just a blowout win and a 3-2 overall record.
“We’re obviously very, very disappointed,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said.
Wednesday’s high noon affair was no booby prize game. Nearly annual Final Four representative Michigan State ended up in the “loser’s” bracket along with 13th-ranked Washington. The night before, Connecticut left the Spartans surprised and bruised, delivering to Washington one of the top teams in the country to finish the three-games-in-three-days tournament.
The brief turnaround was apparent for each, their opening play more daily operation than athletic wow. The crowd was apathetic to start. The building was on solid ground after the previous night’s shaking against Kentucky.
Washington worked its way to a 10-point halftime lead thanks to the ball being in motion on the perimeter. Michigan State’s 14 turnovers helped. After concern that the Huskies would be mentally packed up following Tuesday night’s loss, the first half told otherwise.
Yet, the lead slipped away in the second half. Along with it went any satisfaction Washington could take from its Maui trip would it have beaten a top-10 opponent.
Washington’s 10-point advantage dwindled to six, four, three, then one. A 3-pointer by Michigan State’s Kalin Lucas yanked the Spartans in front.
No surprise the lead-changer came from Lucas’ accurate hand. He scored 29 points, taking just 13 shots. Washington guards Isaiah Thomas and Venoy Overton were again incapable of slowing one of the country’s premier threats, just as the night before against Kentucky’s Brandon Knight.
The Huskies marched into a match game. Possession to possession, until Matthew Bryan-Amaning stood with the ball on the left elbow. Washington called timeout with 24.1 seconds left. In the huddle, it was decided that Bryan-Amaning would be isolated with a chance to drive.
“I think that would be something that would be a little different than what they had seen,” Romar said of the Michigan State defense. “We had done that in the past and it ended up working out OK for that particular play.”
Bryan-Amaning drove right and was fouled with 13.5 seconds left. He made one free throw, missed the second. Michigan State’s lead stood at 72-71. Two free throws by Korey Lucious were followed by a rushed air ball 3-point attempt by Washington’s C.J. Wilcox. That was the last chance.
Romar said pre-tournament this setup would show a team’s “warts.” It did that for his club, which rinses the sand off its feet and heads home knowing rebounding and half-court execution are issues.
The Huskies also played two tight games against the eighth- and second-ranked teams in the country. The loss margins added up to 12 points. Washington missed 18 free throws in those games.
Still, reviews were flattering.
“There’s about three teams here that I think are as good as any we’ll face all year and you can be guaranteed Washington is one,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
Romar, glass never less than half full, felt all right.
“We had a lot of high hopes coming into the tournament,” Romar said. “That being said, I really like our team. I think our team is going to be fine.”