Boatright, Huskies suffer heart-wrenching loss on Senior Night
STORRS – The Hollywood script for Ryan Boatright’s Senior Night at UConn was somehow, someway playing out on Thursday.
The dialogue was certainly choppy as the Huskies shot a woeful 27 percent in a physical battle against Memphis, a game where bodies slamming against the floor was the norm. However, with eight seconds left, Boatright had the ball, down one, and a shot for the win.
UConn’s senior captain has overcome a number of adverse situations in his four years at the school. There was his suspension during his freshman year due to eligibility issues. Then the Huskies were banned from the postseason in his sophomore campaign. He’s also battled being in the shadow of Shabazz Napier and the doubts of scouts who don’t think he’s a fit in the NBA.
Boatright, though, will leave UConn in the school’s Top 10 list in both points and assists, along with, of course, a national championship.
While it would’ve been fitting for him to make a buzzer-beating shot and get carried off the court in celebration, Boatright instead will have to deal with overcoming another obstacle: disappointment. His last second attempt was off and Memphis escaped a rowdy Gampel Pavilion with a 54-53 victory over the Huskies.
As Boatright walked slowly off the floor, with his hands on his head, Memphis’ Shaq Goodwin waltzed over to the UConn student section yelling, “I told you so!” Prior to the contest, Goodwin had some playful banter with the students, as well.
In-between those encounters, he made a 10-foot baseline jumper over Phil Nolan that hit the rim four times before going in, the eventual game-winner with 8.1 seconds remaining.
The Huskies then called timeout and everyone in the building knew where the ball was going. Boatright drove to his left, was met by a defender and took an off-balance shot.
It fell short. And UConn fell short for the 12th time this season.
"I just didn't take a real good shot, I'm not even going make up any excuses,” said Boatright, who finished with 14 points. “I could’ve got a better shot off than that. I didn't make the right decision."
“We were just trying to get Boatright the ball. ‘Boatright, make a play.’ That’s basically it,” noted UConn coach Kevin Ollie. “You’re taking it the full length of the court so it’s not like you can run three down screens. So, you put the ball in your senior’s hands and hopefully he can make a play. Unfortunately, he just didn’t.”
Fellow seniors Pat Lenehan and Dan Guest, who made a brief on-court cameo in the first half, were also honored prior to the game. But Boatright was the showcase of the ceremony, making the ending of the night even harder to take.
“It was a wonderful experience. Words can’t really explain how I felt,” Boatright said of the rousing tribute he received. “But I was ready to get to the game and the biggest thing was to get a win and we failed to do that.”
Ollie was particularly dismayed at his team’s lack of execution. One game after shooting a sizzling 53 percent against a tough SMU defense, the Huskies (17-12, 10-7 AAC) made a mere 15-of-54 shots. Rodney Purvis followed his career-high 28-point effort by missing all seven of his field goal attempts, and Daniel Hamilton missed seven of his nine three-point shots.
The Tigers (18-12, 10-7 AAC), with their leading scorer Austin Nichols out due to injury, were led by Trashon Burrell’s game-high 22 points. They jumped out to a 22-9 lead, forcing the Huskies to scrap from behind.
“Give Memphis credit. They came out and they played hard. They took it to us right at the beginning of the game,” Ollie said. “They played with a sense of urgency, and we didn’t, right from the tap.
“I thought the guys forgot what we did against SMU,” he continued. “We shared the basketball, we played together, and I just thought there was just a little bit too much selfishness out there today in this basketball game, on the offensive and defensive end.”
The final minute symbolized the night for the Huskies. Prior to Memphis’ final shot, UConn had possession with a one-point edge, but were inexplicably tentative and committed a shot clock violation.
The Tigers then worked the ball inside and Nolan’s defense on Goodwin was strong, but it wasn’t good enough. Goodwin’s shot marked the third game-winner the Huskies have allowed in the final eight seconds of a game at Gampel this season, the other two defeats coming to Texas and Yale.
Overall, it was their fifth loss by less than four points. A major reason why they’ll be playing for their NCAA Tournament lives next week in the conference tournament in Hartford. The Huskies’ regular season concludes Saturday at Temple.
Obviously, Boatright did not have the storybook ending to his regular season home career on Thursday. But he’s not throwing in the towel despite tough odds ahead.
“We still got an opportunity to get to the tournament, but now it’s a tougher task,” he said. “It could still be done, though.
“As the leader of this team, I need to keep encouraging everyone. People are down on us, coach is mad at us. I’m going to keep us together. We have to get back to practice, and live to fight another day.”
And maybe next week, the script will have a better ending, not just for Boatright, but his team, too.