Men's Basketball: UConn hangs on against Indiana to win the 2K Sports Classic
Published: Friday, November 22, 2013
Updated: Friday, November 22, 2013 23:11
NEW YORK – There’s something about UConn, New York City and close games.
With UConn up by one and 0.7 seconds to go, Indiana’s Noah Vonleh could not get his shot off in time to steal the game for the Hoosiers (5-1, 0-0 Big Ten) and allowed the Huskies (6-0, 0-0 American Athletic Conference) squeeze out yet another close win in New York (including the season opener against Maryland at the Barclays Center) to stay undefeated on the season with a 59-58 win and claim the 2K Sports Classic Championship Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
The last time UConn celebrated a title on the floor of the Garden, it was in March of 2011 when the Huskies captured the Big East Tournament Championship on the fifth and final night during that amazing run under Kemba Walker.
Shabazz Napier and his game-high 27 points were reminiscent of what Walker did in this arena.
“That’s my big brother,” Napier said on Walker. “I try to emulate everything that he does in a sense but I also try and put my type of talent and skills on it. I’m not trying to be him; those are some hard shoes to fill. I’m just trying to be Shabazz and if I can continue to play the way I have, minus the free throws and turnovers, I think I should be good.”
Indiana head coach Tom Crean had high praises for Napier after the game as well.
“[He] is just too good,” Crean said. “He’s got one of those un-teachable abilities to make big shots at really crucial times.”
“Some people run away from the moments,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said. “[Napier] embraces them.”
As much as Napier helped the Huskies’ cause to win the game Friday night, however, he could have easily lost the game for the Huskies as well.
Napier committed an offensive foul with 22.4 left on the clock to give Indiana a chance to win the game, but Yogi Ferrell’s jumper with about eight seconds left did not go, and the ball was tipped around and rolled out of bounds off an UConn player to set up the final play of the game.
Both sides struggled to establish offensive rhythms for most parts Friday night, as the two teams combined for a total of 36 turnovers in the game.
The Hoosiers, who shot 48.2 percent from the field on the season, went 20-for-49 (40.8 percent) Friday night, while the Huskies shot just 39.6 percent (21-for-53) themselves.
Napier, for one, did all he could to improve that percentage with his 10-for-14 shooting from the field, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the first half that put UConn up 30-24.
As the only UConn player who scored in double figures Friday night, Napier took over the game and carried the Huskies throughout the second half.
“Sometimes my teammates let me know,” said Napier, who was two points shy of his career-high. “Not verbally, but I can just tell by the way they carry themselves. If I see DeAndre [Daniels] down about not scoring, I know that I have to try and score and be more aggressive… I just go off the flow [of the game]; if I think it is time then I am going to go.”
Rebounding was critical for UConn in this game, as Indiana was ranked third the nation with 51.8 rebounds per game and was outrebounding its opponents by a margin of 19.2 rpg. UConn, meanwhile, averaged just 36.8 rpg.
The Hoosier did win the battle on the glass Friday night, but only by a margin of 35-33, something Ollie could hang his hats on.
“They were averaging about 20 offensive rebounds and we wanted to cut that in half, which we almost did,” Ollie said. “We are not the biggest team but I will put our heart against anybody.”
A big part of Indiana’s drop in rebounds was due to the absence of its freshman star Vonleh for the majority of the game due to foul trouble.
Vonleh, who was averaging 15.4 ppg and 11.8 rpg on the season, finished the game with just 10 minutes played for zero points and two rebounds.
“It was huge,” Ollie said. “He was averaging 12 rebounds in 24 minutes. Everybody is talking about all these other freshmen, but he is right there with them. So it was huge to get him into foul trouble.”
With the win, UConn improves its record at MSG to 59-52 and 6-3 in the all-time series against Indiana.
The Huskies will now return home to begin a four-game home stand, starting with a game against Loyola (Md.) on Tuesday at the XL Center at 7 p.m.