Many of the 9,464 people at Matthew Knight Arena on Thursday night began walking to the exits after Jaylen Nowell’s three free throws broke a tie with 1.6 seconds left to play.
That group of fans wasn’t willing to wait around and see if Oregon could come up with the kind of miracle finish it has allowed two opponents to celebrate on its home court this season. Some others stayed until Paul White’s final inbounds pass went past everyone on the court to spin out of bounds.
By the time the final horn sounded to break the stunned silence, the final fans were up and on their way out of the building, perhaps still trying to figure out how Washington left with a 61-56 victory.
Among the last to leave the arena were the Ducks, whose postgame meeting at center court lasted longer than usual. White did much of the talking before the huddle broke up as freshman Francis Okoro and others gave words of encouragement to Payton Pritchard, who committed a turnover and then fouled Nowell in the final seconds.
“This kind of loss, it truly sucks, but the person I feel for is Payton,” White explained. “We let him know we’ve got his back in any situation and that is why we call each other brothers. We wanted to make sure he didn’t feel like this loss was on his shoulders.”
Pritchard gave Oregon its first lead of the second half at 52-51 on a three-pointer with 4:08 left. Kenny Wooten added a basket and Louis King scored inside to put the Ducks ahead 56-51 with 2:26 left, but those were the last points for Oregon (11-8), which dropped to 2-4 in the Pac-12.
Nowell scored five straight points for a 56-56 tie with 1:28 to play before both teams committed a turnover and missed a 3-pointer that left the Ducks with the ball and 19.3 seconds on the clock as they met for a timeout.
“We wanted the last shot,” UO coach Dana Altman said. “I said that we had another timeout if we needed it, but we just can’t turn it over. If we go to overtime, we go to overtime. We were going to take the last shot, but we turned it over.”
Pritchard was going to drive to the basket or look for King slipping off a screen, but instead he lost possession as he drove right with seven seconds remaining. Nowell snagged the ball and headed up the court before pulling up from 35 feet out when Pritchard was called for a foul on the attempt.
“I feel like in that situation, tie game, let the kids play,” King said. “I didn’t think he fouled him, he was just trying to contest the shot and unfortunately the ref called the foul.”
Replays appeared to show that Pritchard did not touch Nowell’s arm or hand on the shot but made contact with his right leg as he tried to run by him.
“I watched that play from a lot of different angles,” Altman said. “Just a tough call.”
Nowell made all three free throws with 1.6 seconds left before White’s pass went out at the other end of the court. Matisse Thybulle added two free throws in the final second as the Huskies (15-4) remained on top of the conference at 6-0.
“It is a gut-wrencher,” Altman said.
The coach had similar sentiments two weeks earlier when Oregon lost a nine-point lead in the final minute of regulation before losing 87-84 in overtime against UCLA.
“UCLA was a tough one, too, but I think with this one, we are in a better head space,” White said. “UCLA shocked us and when you lose like this, it is a shock, but we know we need to pick each other up in these moments.”
King had 19 points and six rebounds to lead the Ducks, freshman Miles Norris added a season-high 10 points and Okoro made all four of his field-goal attempts for eight points as UO’s freshmen combined for 37 of 56 points. White continued to be bothered by an ankle injury suffered in Saturday’s loss at Arizona State and finished with five points while playing 15 minutes, including four in the second half.
The Ducks trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half and fell behind 27-19 at halftime while shooting 36.8 percent from the field.
“We have to come out harder,” King said. “To score two points in the first 10 minutes is unacceptable.”
Washington kept its lead near double digits for most of the second half and led 51-42 when Nahziah Carter made a 3-pointer with 8:07 left.
The Ducks followed with 14 straight points, beginning with a 3-pointer from Pritchard. As Oregon’s press forced the Huskies to commit three straight turnover, Okoro dunked and King got a layup to get the Ducks within 51-49 with 5:21 left.
Norris blocked UW’s David Crisp at the rim to start a possession that culminated with Pritchard’s go-ahead 3-pointer. Wooten and King followed with buckets that gave Oregon its biggest lead and its final points of the game.
“In the second half we played hard, but in the first half we were stuck in the mud,” Altman said.