Reflections on a nailbiter

PULLMAN – Northwestern coach Bill Carmody threw one of the great tirades in Friel Court history late in the first half of Wednesday's NIT quarterfinal against Washington State. The result was a technical foul that, depending on your viewpoint, ended up lighting a Wildcat fire that turned a rout into a nailbiter or cost his team victory in this 69-66 overtime thriller.

Regardless of the broader implications of the T, Carmody's mood hadn't improved a whole lot by the time post-game interviews rolled around.

In a not-very-subtle jab for the earlier-in-the-day lifting of DeAngelo Casto's suspension, Carmody said of Casto's 36-minute gem – 11 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 assists and 2 steals – "I see why he's playing."

So much for the notion of being gracious in defeat.

Casto was more than a lightning rod for Carmody's disappointment. He was also the thunder that supercharged the 5,905 faithful who went nuts when PA announcer Glenn Johnson introduced "DeAngeloooooooooooo Castoooooo" just before tip off and they never let up.


Things could not have gotten off to a better start for Casto, who after winning the game's opening tip, he scored the first two points of the night with a rim-rattling, two-handed slam that sent the Friel throng into deafening orbit.

Casto then used a nifty spin move for two more points, and added an emphatic swat of Northwestern center Luka Mickovich a few plays later.

"You want to come out with that kind of energy and explode and move forward," Casto said. "Basketball for me is just a great tool to move forward and take my mind off of things. I got to play ball with my teammates and we got a win."

WSU looked to be on their way to an easy win, with a 14-point lead at one point in the first half. They still entered the locker room ahead by seven. It took all of 90 seconds after the second half tip for them to surrender those seven points.

From there it was a back-and-forth game, with no team able to increase their lead to more than four points. At the end of regulation, exuberant anticipation morphed into a sickening feeling, as steady Abe Lodwick missed two free throws with 0.2 ticks left on the clock. Lodwick looked disgusted, and the rest of the Cougs looked dazed.

"It was quiet for 15 seconds then the guys realized hey, we have a five minute game and we've got to move forward," Ken Bone said.

In the overtime, the Cougs got it done, as they had throughout, on defense. Klay Thompson scored four of WSU's five points in the extra frame but the WSU star had an off night shooting, hitting on just 6-of-18. But it was defense, and especially their inside presence, that won this game for Casto and the Cougs.

"I thought we battled, and I thought I battled inside," said Casto. "The distractions were distractions but we move forward and now we're headed to New York and hopefully we'll win the NIT championship."

Those distractions were the talk of the town the previous 48 hours. Casto became the third Cougar starter on the hoops team, along with Reggie Moore and Thompson, to run into trouble with the law over marijuana possession this season. He was suspended. Then, hours before game time, Casto was reinstated when the details of the incident called into question the actions of the Pullman police department.

Casto's number was the first one called during the introductions of the starting lineup for WSU. The Zzu Cru held signs of support, offering a welcome very much similar to the one Thompson received when he played his first game at home in the NIT opener against Oklahoma State after his troubles.

"I just told him to be strong and I think DeAngelo is a smart kid and some people put him in a bad position," Thompson said. "I think he was handled by some people, and that's why he was playing obviously. He did a good job of playing hard and that's all we ask from him."

"I was really excited to play but I was more excited because of what the game (meant)," Casto said. "Last game on our home court, lose you go home, and win you go to New York. It's a hard game not to get revved up for."

When it was finally over, when WSU had overcome all the adversity on and off the court and notched a win, the realization that meant a trip to the NIT final four in Big Apple began to sink in.

"It's pretty exciting because being from Australia, you see it in all the moves and now with the opportunity to go to Madison Square Garden, it's pretty exciting," Motum said.

I've only been there once," Thompson, who has family in New York, said. "We get to play at Madison Square Garden on a national stage so its really special for Washington State to put our program in a great position to win the tournament."

  • Post-game, the entire Zzu Cru section broke out a "One More Year" chant directed at Thompson, who responded by putting up a single finger and smiling. The fans reacted as if Thompson was telling them he was coming back. ESPN even went so far as to say Thompson had just told the fans that with his gesture. However, Thompson put the brakes on that conclusion later.

    "It means they want one more year and I let them know one more game at a time and I'll wait to make that decision until the season is over," Thompson said.

  • Cougar PA announcer Glenn Johnson finds himself in unique territory in the DeAngelo Casto/Pullman police affair. As the mayor of Pullman, he has oversight of the police department. And as the PA announcer for the Cougars, he's an employee of the athletics department. Adding even more intrigue is that he's a highly respected journalism professor at the Murrow School. Alas, when asked Wednesday by about his unique place at the crossroads of the situation, he was succinct, saying he couldn't comment because the investigation was ongoing.

  • The NIT Final Four shapes up this way:
    Tuesday, March 29th ESPN2 4:00 pm PT Wichita State vs. Washington State; 6:00 pm PT Alabama vs. Colorado.
    Thursday, March 31st ESPN2 4:00 pm PT, Championship Game.


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