– The problem wasn't in starting the game. The Huskies had hit a lull in the middle, up by 13 points and now down seven when Kevin Ollie took a timeout.
"He put it on us," Ryan Boatright said. "He said, 'you know what you've got to do. Suck it up, or they're going to blow you out of the building.' "
The Huskies responded, and with 2 1/2 minutes gone in the second half, turned up the heat on defense, regained the momentum and disposed of Seton Hall 78-67 on Sunday before 7,634 at the Prudential Center. After a long, difficult bus ride from Storrs on Saturday night, a quick night's sleep and an early wake-up call, UConn (16-6, 6-4 Big East) got win No. 16, ensuring a winning record in Ollie's first season.
"I'm proud of my guys," Ollie said. "We wrote on the board, 'no excuses,' because they had every opportunity to find excuses."
Shabazz Napier, as he has done so often this season, took over the game and turned things around. Seton Hall (13-11, 2-9) had put together a 16-0 run to wipe out UConn's early advantage when Napier made his first field goal with 2:55 left in the first half. Napier went on to score 22 points, including 18 in the second half.
"First half, I wanted to be a distributor," Napier said, "it was working, we had a [13-point lead] and I didn't want to mess it up."
Seton Hall had another run early in the second half and led 43-36 after Aaron Cosby's layup, two of his 25 points, but UConn outscored the Pirates 34-11 over the next 14 ½ minutes. When Napier lobbed one off the backboard and Boatright threw it down, hanging on the rim several seconds, the Huskies led 70-54 with 2:52 left and were headed for a much more pleasant bus ride home.
"I wouldn't have done it," said Ollie, who is not a fan of showboating, "but let them have fun. They deserve it. They went through a long bus ride, and I got them up early to have breakfast. … As long as it went in."
Boatright scored 20, hitting 10 of 10 free throws.
The Huskies closed out the game with Napier and Boatright going to the free throw line and hitting. They totaled 21 of 23 from the line, to complement their 54 percent shooting from the floor. UConn, as Ollie had admonished, cut down on ill-advised three-point shots, taking 14, half as many as they did in their loss to St. John's on Wednesday.
Most startlingly, UConn outrebounded Seton Hall 31-26, the gap only evening over the meaningless final possessions. The Huskies had been outrebounded by 16 of their first 21 opponents, and Seton Hall's rebounding numbers coming in were good.
"We don't talk about our big [guys] enough," Ollie said. "They did a good against [Kevin] Johnson and [Eugene] Teague, and they were giving away some pounds. They kept those guys from dominating the game inside."
After scoring 15 points in the first half against South Florida and 20 against St. John's, UConn scored 25 points in the first 11:59 of this game. Omar Calhoun scored 10 first-half points, and Boatright completed a four-point play, hitting a three as he was fouled during the opening sequence. The Huskies did not look like a team that was unable to practice Friday or Saturday, got to Newark at 1 a.m., rose for an 8 a.m. breakfast and began at noon.
To this point, at least. Fuquan Edwin (19 points), Seton Hall's leading scorer, was not expected to play, but he toughed it out with his sprained ankle and gave UConn fits over the last 8 minutes of the half. The Pirates forced four turnovers to ignite their offense, and took the lead on a steal by Edwin and a layup by Haralds Karlis. Edwin's basket made it 28-25 before Napier's first bucket.
"Turnovers, man," Boatright said. "We were making careless mistakes, stupid decisions, things we knew we weren't supposed to be doing."
Ollie, meanwhile, was subbing players in and out, something he doesn't normally do. UConn was down one at the half, before Seton Hall's run and the timeout that finally helped shift momentum back the Huskies' way. Boatright and Napier began applying their own brand of ball pressure – they got 10 of UConn's 13 steals — with R.J. Evans coming off the bench to help ramp up the defensive intensity. Napier made 2 of 3 shots in the first half, 6 of 9 in the second.
"I was worried about how Shabazz only had three shots in the first half," Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. "Once he saw that first one go in, he kind of got his rhythm. With great players, you've got to try to limit them seeing the ball go in the basket. Once he saw it go in, he really turned it up and made some nice plays. But we also gave him some layups that kind of helped his confidence."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun