UConn overcomes sloppy start and rolls past Sacred Heart
HARTFORD – Rodney Purvis laughed when he was asked to repeat what Kevin Ollie said at halftime on Wednesday.
He wasn’t about to give the coach's answer.
“I can’t tell you,” UConn’s junior chuckled, only offering up that it was a spirited exchange. After the Huskies’ ugly start against an overmatched Sacred Heart team, Ollie’s frustration was to be expected.
Also expected, UConn ultimately prevailed, winning easily by an 82-49 margin before 8,563 at the XL Center. But the Huskies’ trend of falling behind by double digits continued, this time by a 25-14 score.
Led by Purvis, who finished with 19 points, and another stat-filling night from Daniel Hamilton (14 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists, two blocks, two steals), UConn went on a 27-2 run to end the half and added an 18-0 outburst in the second to restore order.
It was the third straight game the Huskies (5-2) fell behind by more than 10 points, with the previous two ending in defeat to Syracuse and Gonzaga, respectively. Coming back against Sacred Heart is one thing. However, with No. 2 Maryland on the horizon next week at Madison Square Garden, UConn must find a way to start stronger.
“I can’t explain (the slow starts),” Ollie said. "Like I say, effort is isolated. It’s between you and no one else involved. I went to the bench, took some guys out, put some guys in, and we finally found a combination and got it going. But we can’t do that against the great teams we will be facing. Nothing against Sacred Heart, but we can’t do that against Maryland when we go down to Madison Square Garden.
“I just don’t like that pattern,” he continued. “Hopefully, the guys continue to respond. When we got down 11, they did turn it on.”
Amida Brimah was one of the players who responded. Sitting during most of Sacred Heart’s early run, his presence in the paint was a major factor in UConn’s turnaround as the Pioneers struggled to get off any shots near the rim. Brimah blocked four shots, made all four of his field goal attempts (10 points), and the Huskies outscored Sacred Heart by an obscene 36-point margin in his 20 minutes on the floor.
“I made a couple stupid mistakes at the start of the game, and I deserved to be on the bench," Brimah said. "I was just waiting for my name to be called and get back in the game, and pick up the intensity.”
"He really dominated the paint and didn't allow any easy touches or easy catches," added Ollie.
Shonn Miller also scored 10 points and Sterling Gibbs added eight. Cane Boone, an East Hartford native, came in averaging 23.2 points a game for Sacred Heart. He was smothered by UConn’s defense into a 3-for-16 shooting night and only seven points.
The Huskies are happy that their two-game losing streak is over, but know tougher times are ahead.
“Those two losses really hurt,” Purvis said. "We let two huge wins slip away in the Bahamas, but that is in the past, so we have to move forward. This is one of the biggest games that we are going to play and we can’t let these opportunities slip away from us.”
On Tuesday, UConn returns to MSG for the first time since its memorable wins over Iowa State and Michigan State in the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
Purvis was on that team, but did not play because he had to sit out a season as a transfer. But it won’t be the first time he’s played in the building.
“My last time playing in Madison Square Garden, I beat UConn,” said Purvis, who scored seven points for N.C. State to help beat the Huskies nearly three years to this day. “I think I have a little luck there and so hopefully I’ll have some more luck on Tuesday.
“It’s definitely our second home and we have to take care of our home.”
One way of taking care of that home is getting off to a better start. An ugly beginning like Wednesday’s would surely result in an disappointing end against Maryland.