Emergence of Purvis critical for UConn in win over Columbia
BRIDGEPORT – Deemed last season as the “Ferrari parked in my garage” by UConn coach Kevin Ollie, Rodney Purvis has faced one obstacle after another in his first season in a Husky uniform.
First, the North Carolina State transfer had to sit out opening night after being ruled ineligible for playing on too many summer league teams. Then, while the Huskies were in Puerto Rico, he injured his left ankle and missed the loss to Texas.
Not to mention the rust from having to sit out last season due to transfer rules.
In his last four games heading into Monday, he averaged a mere four points per contest, and notably showed a hesitance to shoot when open, an issue brought up by Ollie and UConn captain Ryan Boatright following Thursday’s defeat at the hands of No. 2 Duke.
Finally, on Monday, the garage door opened. And the Huskies saw the promise they have raved about for over a year.
Showing no hesitation to shoot, Purvis missed only one of eight attempts, including 4-of-5 from three, and scored a team-high 21 points in leading UConn over Columbia, 80-65, on its once-a-season makeshift home court at Webster Bank Arena.
Ollie points directly to the practices following the Duke game as the reason for Purvis’ breakthrough.
“Rodney, in the last two or three practices, has been outstanding,” Ollie said. “He’s been playing hard, getting his rhythm back and playing defense. It translates to the game.”
Purvis tied a career-high in points, set during his one season at NC State. He made his first shot of the game - a baseline jumper plus a foul – and showed a consistency the UConn coaching staff has been craving. Himself, as well.
“I’ve been staying in the gym practicing at night, watching film and seeing where I can pick my spots,” Purvis said. “I’m taking it upon myself to step it up until I can't step it up anymore.”
And that extra work led to the confidence needed to pull the trigger when open.
“Coach (Karl) Hobbs pulled me aside before the game and said to be aggressive and not second-guess myself,” noted Purvis. “I’m a good shooter. My numbers haven’t been the best from three (30 percent entering Monday) and I’m not saying I’m Ray Allen, but I can make shots. I have to credit my teammates. They found me in open areas."
Boatright, who had 20 points, spoke openly after the loss to Duke about the need for a second scorer. He liked what he saw Monday, a night in which he recorded a season-high eight assists.
“I’ve been on them every day,” Boatright said. “I know for us to go where I want to go, it’s going to take all of us. It’s not going to be just me scoring 25 points. We need Purv to step up and be No. 2 go-to-guy and he was tonight.”
In addition, Amida Brimah shook off his nightmare performance against Duke and finished with 14 points, six rebounds and three blocks. Daniel Hamilton added three three-pointers in the second half to help stave off a tough Columbia team, led by Maodo Lo’s 24 points. Just 12 days earlier, the Lions lost by only 10 at No. 1 Kentucky.
The final eight minutes may have been the Huskies’ best stretch of the season. Up only three, Purvis and Hamilton combined to make five straight threes, plus Brimah added two alley-oop dunks to seal the win and send the Southern Connecticut crowd of 9,124 home happy.
It was a welcomed sight for UConn, which struggled mightily in trying to close out leads in its losses to Texas and Yale. At 5-4, Ollie sees brighter days ahead for the Huskies.
“We’re getting better and it’s about time guys showed it,” Ollie said. “They showed it by shooting and playing defense at the same time.
“I told you we were going to take some ups and downs. But I like how our guys responded.”
That response began with the ignition finally starting in his Ferrari. If this is only the beginning for Purvis, Ollie’s Huskies will indeed be better as conference play looms.