Purvis, UConn survive USF in AAC Tourney
HARTFORD – Rodney Purvis had a lot on the line Thursday night at the XL Center – not only was his team facing a season-ending loss, but a defeat would also wrap up his career.
The senior, though, made sure to avoid that fate for at least one more day with perhaps the best statistical game of his career. Purvis, who has a knack for upping his game in the postseason, scored a career 30 points to go along with six rebounds, three steals, two blocks, and no turnovers in UConn’s 77-66 win over USF in the first round of the AAC Tournament.
Purvis stressed the potential end of his career was not on his mind. But it’s hard to believe that wasn’t the case, especially when the Bulls, a woeful 7-23, pulled within two points late in the second half, much to the dismay of the slim gathering of 4,874 on hand.
“That's definitely not the first thing I'm thinking about. I'm just trying to get a win,” Purvis said. “Going into the game, we knew what was at stake as a team. None of us want our season to end right now, so that was our mindset the entire night. Coming out in the second half, we got off to a slow start, but we just got it going.”
Purvis’ previous career-high was 29 points in this same tournament two years ago against SMU in the finals. The game prior to that, he hit the game-winning jumper versus Tulsa to cap a wild comeback. And last season, he averaged 18 points a game in two NCAA Tournament contests.
“If anybody follows Purv, he’s played some of his best basketball in this tournament and in the NCAA Tournament,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “When we needed a big play, he came up with it. I was so proud of him taking the defensive challenge. That's what we've been trying to convey to him, because he's probably one of the best defensive players laterally moving his feet. He did a great job, took the challenge, and played a wonderful game on the offensive and defensive end.”
The Huskies (15-16) got Vance Jackson (seven points) back from a concussion and played as close to full strength as this injury-savaged team will for the remainder of this season. Jalen Adams, still bothered by a sprained left ankle, played 39 minutes and struggled to an eight-point, four-turnover performance. He also had issues staying with USF’s Geno Thorpe, who scored 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting.
UConn led by 13 (42-29) at the half, but, in this season of despair, nothing came easy as the Bulls, led by Thorpe and Michael Bibby (13 points), continued to crawl back every time it appeared the Huskies would pull away. A late jumper by Adams and a three from Purvis finally sealed the victory over a team the Huskies crushed twice (by a combined 67 points) in the regular season.
“We got and kind of got lackluster there and had a couple turnovers,” Ollie said. “We've just got to learn and grow from it. I think we'll do that and hopefully have a better game execution-wise on the offensive end tomorrow.”
It’s on to Houston in the next round for the Huskies, who dropped both regular season games in their series. In the first matchup at XL, Adams sat out with a concussion and the Cougars cruised, winning by 16. Sixteen days ago in Houston, UConn jumped out to a 10-point halftime lead and melted down in a crushing defeat.
If the 2016-17 season is to go on, the Huskies need a better showing than they had Thursday, not to mention those previous Houston battles, as well.
“We can't play like this and expect to advance,” Ollie said. “We can't have 16 turnovers. We've got to shoot the ball better. We've got to execute on the offensive end. Because if you want to play good defensive transition, you have to do well in the offensive end.
“So, we're going to have to clean those things up," he continued. "I liked our grit. When we needed a stop, when we needed a big-time defensive effort and defensive plays, our guys stepped up, so I really appreciate that. But we have to play a better game to advance in this tournament.”
Or it will be over. And it’s hard to believe that’s not on the mind of any UConn player.