Purvis, Boatright and Hamilton all shine in UConn's triumph over SMU
HARTFORD – The reference is over a year old, but it’s one that has stuck with Rodney Purvis.
Famously, while sitting out last season as a redshirt transfer, UConn coach Kevin Ollie called Purvis a “Ferrari sitting in the garage that I can’t drive.”
Purvis’ first year in a Husky uniform hasn’t gone as smoothly as a Ferrari runs, but there have been some high notes. Notably, a 21-point effort against Columbia and back-to-back 17-point games in wins over Tulane and Tulsa.
His first signature moment didn’t come until the 28th game of the season. Fittingly, though, it came in UConn’s signature win of this campaign and in the most spectacular fashion on Sunday.
Wearing bright red Air Jordan 14s, fittingly designed after Ferraris, Purvis more resembled a jet leaving the ground, taking off from 10 feet away and throwing down a vicious dunk over and through SMU’s 6-foot-11 center Yanick Morerira.
The slam, which occurred in the second half, ignited the sellout gathering of 15,564 at the XL Center to its loudest point of the season and inspired UConn to an 81-73 win over the No. 21 Mustangs, its third straight triumph and first ever over SMU.
“It was just aggression,” said Purvis, who finished with a career-high 28 points and flexed his muscles toward the raucous crowd in celebration following the dunk. “I knew if I floated it, he’d probably send it into the second row. I just went in aggressive.”
Instead of running from the pressure Ollie’s statement may have stirred, he’s embraced the praise.
“That’s a great car,” joked Purvis, who also hit all seven of his free throws to go along with three three-pointers. “For him to say that about me is pretty good. The main thing is I want to finish up this season well, and complete it (strong) as a team.”
“He came out (today) and hit his first three, and wasn’t tentative at all,” Ollie said. “And then he went down the lane. That’s the explosiveness we want to see. He went up and said, ‘I’m not shying away from contact. I’m actually going to go up, rise and dunk on you.' I think the crowd really got into that.”
His dunk, which made the rounds on YouTube and Twitter before the game was even over, will certainly stand out as the play that symbolized this victory for the Huskies. Purvis, however, insists he will most remember his perfect shooting from the foul line.
It’s been a struggle for him, making only three of his previous 13 attempts entering the game. On the season, he was shooting 46 percent.
“I feel I haven’t been as aggressive because of them,” Purvis admitted. “I’ve just been in the gym a lot shooting free throws. Coach (Karl) Hobbs grabs me after practice and I shoot tons and tons of free throws. I credit my shooting today to him.”
Along with Purvis, Ryan Boatright played a major role for the Huskies, now 17-11 overall and 10-6 in the AAC. In the high-profiled matchup of nationally-revered point guards with Nic Moore, Boatright dominated the battle on both sides of the ball. He scored 23 points and hit four three-pointers, and defensively, swiped three steals and helped hold Moore to nine points on 3-of-13 shooting, including 1-of-6 on three-point attempts.
“He’s a great player,” Boatright said. “I knew they would try to take me out of the game with blitz ball screens, or whatever they had to do. We just returned the favor. If they were going to try to take our best star out of the game, we’re going to take yours out of the game. I told coach that I wanted to be the one to do it.”
“Ryan is doing a great job leading these guys,” noted Ollie. “He’s self-correcting himself, keeping everyone calm, and keeping everybody poised. I really, really want to keep stressing that and want him to continue to do that in these last two (regular season) games and hopefully, in our conference tournament.”
UConn also received another strong outing from Daniel Hamilton, his fourth straight impressive performance. Hamilton played every position except center, scoring 14 of his 16 points in the second half and added seven rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block.
The trio of Purvis, Boatright and Hamilton, along with the frontline defense of Amida Brimah, Phil Nolan and Kentan Facey was too much for SMU (23-6, 14-3 AAC), the class of the AAC this season, to overcome.
UConn shot 53 percent from the field and 45 percent from three. The Mustangs had held their opponents to 38 percent shooting going into Sunday.
“The better team won. I didn’t think we matched their energy,” SMU coach Larry Brown said. “When you go 9-for-20 against us from three, we’re going to have a hard time winning a lot of games. We’re a pretty good defensive team, and I don’t think this was our best effort. But I also think you should give credit to the people we played against.
“It was a phenomenal environment today,” Brown continued. “I hope our program someday is going to be received like this. It was just great to be a part of this.”
Up next for the Huskies is Senior Night on Thursday against Memphis and a trip to Temple two days later. Then it’s the AAC Tournament, which will be held in Hartford.
The Huskies went 6-1 at the XL Center this season, with their lone loss coming in overtime to Temple, a contest in which Boatright missed the second half due to injury. They beat Cincinnati, crushed Tulsa and now have defeated SMU in Hartford.
Considering it will be UConn’s best chance for an NCAA Tournament bid, and considering the location, it can be argued the Huskies will be one of the favorites, right there with SMU.
As Purvis displayed in his leap to the hoop, it’s not out of the question for UConn to rise to those heights.