STORRS — It was a night, a crazy, nutty, heart-pounding night, when we found out again how good Otto Porter Jr. is.
It also was a night, a crazy, nutty, heart-pounding, double-overtime night, when we found out how good DeAndre Daniels can be.
The saddest part of this Wednesday night in late February is not that UConn lost 79-78 to Georgetown in double overtime at Gampel Pavilion. The saddest part is that the Huskies cannot take this show on the road to New York for the Big East Tournament and wherever the NCAA would have sent them this March.
That's another story, of course, and the story in front of us is that UConn seems incapable of playing boring, ho-hum games, especially against the top schools in the nation. Afterward, coach Kevin Ollie said that his goal was to have the "best-attitude" team in the nation. And although there is no metric, no RPI for it, you'd be hard-pressed to find a team with a better attitude than this Ollie team.
The Huskies played their sixth overtime game, tying the school's single-season record, and this one needed a second OT to settle it. This wasn't a good regular season game. This was a great one.
Porter, ceded by just about anybody who matters to be Big East player of the year, had the last laugh. Yet it would be Daniels, brilliant at times this season, enigmatic at others, who outplayed Porter head to head until the end. It would be the best game of his career.
"I feel like I'm good, I'm one of the top players," said Daniels, the 6-8 sophomore from Los Angeles. "I heard a lot of people saying I can't play with Porter and all this other stuff. I took it as a challenge."
Daniels finished with 25 points, one shy of his career mark, and with 10 rebounds. It was his first double-double. He shot 8 of 15, 3 of 4 on threes and 6 of 6 from the free-throw line. He also had three blocks. In short, it was an Otto Porter Jr. stat line.
"DeAndre had a great game," Ollie said. "He was everywhere. He played like we know he can. He fought. He took the challenge of Otto Porter and he passed it. Now, for him, it's not one game, let's do it the last three games. You come back next year and you do it again."
"He did a phenomenal job rebounding, blocking shots, diving on the floor, playing with the attitude we want to see. He fought tonight. I'm very, very proud of him."
If you're planning to watch the replay of this one, skip the first half. Suffice to say, UConn 22, Georgetown 19. That's when basketball matters turned delicious, absolutely scrumptious, in the second half and overtime. The Hoyas, who shot 28.6 percent in the first half, hit eight three-pointers in the first 11 minutes of the second to take a 12-point lead. They still led by that many with 4:36 left, and that's as good a place as any to pick up Daniels.
He blocked Porter's shot. The next time down Porter missed a long three. And the next time down, he and Omar Calhoun harried Porter into another miss. Calhoun got part of the ball. Daniels grabbed the rebound. Daniels got two free throws in that stretch, too, after battling for an offensive rebound of a Ryan Boatright miss. Down five with 11 seconds to go, Calhoun hit a magical three with 2.2 seconds left. We had overtime.
"I always believe in DeAndre," Shabazz Napier said. "This is the way he usually plays in practice. I'm so happy that he came out and played so well against a good opponent. I want it to continue. He was a great boost for us."
Just when it looked as if the Huskies were going to lose, they didn't. In the second overtime, just when it looked as if they were going to win, they didn't. Daniels hit a three from the deep left corner to open the second OT. The Huskies led by seven with 2:03 to go, but Porter hit a long three to cut it to 78-74. After another three by D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, a Napier turnover led to Porter's winning basket. Mikael Hopkins did a good job sealing his man and Porter took it to the hoop with 9.5 seconds left. Boatright tried to win it, kept his head down and fired up a bad, unanswered prayer from the corner.
"We just didn't cut Porter off and let him get all the way to the lane," Ollie said.
After the Hoyas ended Syracuse's 38-game home winning streak Saturday, the Hoyas became the toast of the Big East. They rose to No. 7 in the polls. Coach John Thompson III said folks were treating his team like they were the best thing since sliced bread. Porter had been brilliantly efficient against the Orange. He was 7 of 9 on twos, 5 of 10 on threes, 4 of 4 from the free-throw line. He had eight rebounds, five steals and two assists in scoring 33 of Georgetown's 57 points. On this night, he only had 15 points in regulation.
"[Daniels] was a very tough matchup," Porter said. "He's a terrific player. He was just setting ball screens, popping and we were having a miscommunication with that. He's a tough kid. He was knocking down shots when they needed it. He was playing good defense, trying to make it hard, clogging up the paint."
"Otto makes winning plays," Thompson III said. "Coming down at the end, it was, 'Let's get a stop and then let's get it to Otto and go, push it.' If I didn't like what I saw I was going to call a timeout. I didn't want to call a timeout and let them set up their defense. I thought we could get an outnumbered advantage in transition."
"First we were just trying to get the stop," Porter said. "That's what I was worried about. Once we got it, I just sprinted the lane. D'Vauntes was able to hit and I saw Mikael sprint to the rim. So I was able to use him to get to the rim myself."
As he plopped down on a chair afterward, Daniels had more ice on him than the Connecticut landscape did after our recent blizzard. He had expended all of himself on this night.
"My body is banged up," Daniels said. "I've never really felt like this. My back. My knees. My shoulder. Everything is killing me right now. It's disappointing we lost this game, but this team has so much heart and I'm happy about that."
Moments earlier, Ollie was asked if this was the night that Daniels became a man. He wasn't biting.
"He has been a man this whole year," Ollie said. "Going through the freshman year, didn't play [at times], he stepped up and played in big games for us. He has been a man. This is a step up and he's going to keep aspiring to get higher and grow and keep learning. He's been a man. He has been in trenches with me."
"I don't think a light bulb went off. He played very, very well. Now we've got to see it consistently. It's got to be a 'must,' it can't be a 'should,' because we know what he can do."
Ollie the author of a surprising 19-8 rookie season, including 9-6 in the Big East, decided to take a shot at being an author of stories.
"At the end of your articles [I hope you write] this team has got heart," Ollie said.
Unfortunately for the Huskies on this incredible night of basketball, another truth is that the Hoyas had Otto Porter Jr.