Huskies beat Desmond Williams, SCSU 70-62 in exhibition opener.
STORRS: If their goal was to get themselves pushed to the limit, the UConn men's basketball team accomplished their goal and then some.
Against a stubborn and very talented Southern Connecticut State University team that came in ranked as the number two team in Division II in the country, the Huskies pulled away late to come away with a 70-62 win in their first exhibition game.
Coming off their fourth national championship a year ago, UConn lost four key players after that and needed to figure out who was going to replace them.
The Owls, who played UConn hard last year in the exhibition opener for both teams, are a talented bunch that simply forgot they were playing the national champions.
"That's a very good team over there," head coach Kevin Ollie said, "They might be a Division II team but they could beat a lot of Division I schools as well. We got the first one out of the way and we'll get better."
Southern was led by former Torrington standout, Desmond Williams, who despite not playing for a year, looked as if the rust never got a chance to catch on.
Williams scored a team 19 points, grabbed nine rebounds and kept his team in the game, despite not starting.
Head coach Michael Donnelly wasn't sure what he was going to get out of Williams early but was pleased with what he saw on night one.
"It was good to see him hit his shots," Donnelly said, "Des is only going to get better."
There was nothing exhibition about this game for the Owls who used last years opener to propel them to a 30 win campaign and they played like it.
Another former Naugatuck Valley League star, Michael Mallory, scored 11-points on an off shooting night (2-13) but will be a factor against any team he goes against this season.
For the Huskies, Ryan Boatright, in his first game at the helm this year, led the way with 19-points and took over the game when needed.
What impressed Ollie the most was the play of his big men on the boards.
"I like that we got nine rebounds from (Daniel) Hamilton and (Kevin) Facey," Ollie said. "Amida (Brimah) got 11. I don't think we got that kind of play on the boards all last season."
Rebounding is key in the Kevin Ollie world, as is holding onto the ball. The coach got one of those, not so much on the other.
"We turned the ball over 21 times and had only 11 assists," Ollie said. "We will be back in the gym after a day off tomorrow and we'll get back to work."
Southern went into the half up 32-29 and despite several runs by the champs, refused to go away, taking back the lead at 48-45 on a Williams bucket with just over five minutes to play.
Down the stretch, it was the UConn defense that stepped up and allowed the offense to click, something they made a living on last year during the title run.
"I loved our defensive energy down the stretch," Ollie said, "That's all I'm looking for right now is our energy level."
After a free throw by Rodney Purvis (7 points) put the home team up for good, a strong effort around the basket put the Huskies at the line enough to open the gap.
A three pointer by Sam Cassell Jr. (17 points) pushed the lead up to 60-54 and when Brimah hit a jumper from the top of the key, to the crowds delight, this one was safely in the win column.
We learned several things tonight.
Williams is going to have a great season for the Owls if he keeps working as hard as his coach said he is.
The Huskies have a whole lot of interchangeable parts that they will need to put in the correct spots in the puzzle to maximize what comes out on the court.
Cassell Jr is going to light up teams on many occasions and if Hamilton and Facey can keep hitting the boards as hard as they did on Tuesday night, the rebounding edge for UConn could be substantial.
Terrence Samuel can still create instant offense and Rakim Lubin is going to flatten some people on the inside.
Brimah went up through the clouds on several occasions on Tuesday to get rebounds and despite some foul trouble, remains that imposing force in the middle that teams will need to fear.
Boatright looked very comfortable in his first game as the lead guy, a year after Shabazz Napier moved on and left him the spot.
The senior guard also liked starting the exhibition season against a team that pushed them throughout.
"They came out and punched us in the mouth," Boatright said, "They gave us all we could handle and we'll be better for it as the year goes on."
With game one under their collective belts, the Huskies will get back to work on Thursday as they prepare to play Assumption on Sunday at the XL Center at noon.