By Paul Gotham
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Shabazz Napier managed just five points in the first 20 minutes of Thursday’s NCAA Tournament second round matchup at the First Niagara Center.
UConn’s senior guard netted nine of his game-high 24 points in five minutes of overtime as the No. 7 seed Huskies came from behind and defeated the No. 10 seed Saint Joseph’s Hawks 89-81 to advance to a third-round meeting with the Villanova Wildcats.
Napier connected on all seven of his free throws in extra time part of a 15 0f 16 effort by the Huskies after regulation.
“My teammates helped me,” Napier said. “They willed me, like they have been throughout the whole season. Guys are telling me, Shabazz, keep going. Keep shooting. You’re going to make the next shot. And they willed me.”
It was Napier’s teammates who put the Huskies in position to win.
Trailing by five with under five minutes to go in regulation, Ryan Boatright drilled a three. Napier went end-to-end for a bucket, and DeAndre Daniels gave UConn a short-lived edge at 67-66 with a catch-and-shoot three.
“We’ve been through a lot of tough games through the whole season, just the will that this team has is amazing, and just to fight, and we never give up,” Daniels commented. “Everybody just follows our two leaders on the team with Shabazz and Boatright and the heart those guys got in them. Everybody on the team is just following along.”
Saint Joseph’s quickly responded. Chris Wilson scored four straight hitting a floater in the lane and drawing contact on the next possession and converting both free throws for a 70-67 with 49.2 seconds remaining.
“I did a horrible job boxing out Brimah, and he got the offensive rebound and got that one,” Kanacevic explained. “That was the pivotal moment when we had them. That’s where I let these guys down. I should have boxed him out better and never let him get the offensive rebound.
I think coach did a great job laying out a game plan for us, and we executed it. We had them down. We were up by three. I think that hurt us tremendously, and I’m sorry for that, honestly.”
Problems were compounded for St. Joe’s when Kanacevic was whistled for his fourth foul of the game. The senior forward fouled out with 3:47 remaining in overtime, and the Hawks trailing by three.
“It was tough,” the senior forward said of having to watch from the sidelines. “You don’t want to go out like that. I definitely don’t want to go out like that. It’s one of those things where it bothers you tremendously.”
After Brimah hit a pair from the charity stripe for a 75-73 UConn lead in overtime, Napier tallied seven straight and nine of eleven as the Huskies pulled away.
“At the end of the day, we wanted to outwork our opponent,” second-year UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “It took a little longer than I thought, but fortunately, we got it done at the end. We started making plays. It’s all on my players, and I thank them for having a great game for this great university.”
Langston Galloway helped the Hawks spring to an early double-digit lead.
The senior guard hit back-to-back treys midway through the first. Ronald Roberts Jr. took a dish from DeAndre Bembry and finished in the lane with a dunk. Galloway hit a step-back. Bembry converted an and-one. The duo combined on an alley oop with Bembry scoring at the rim to give SJU a 37-27 lead with 3:16 to go in the first half.
“We have a message on the wall in our locker room, we put the message on the blackboard before every game, and then we say it, Act like a champion,” St. Jospeh’s coach Phil Martelli stated. “I just told the team, that’s exactly what they did for 45 minutes, and really what they’ve done since June. Sometimes in life you don’t get really what you want. There are reasons that may be out there for anybody. I don’t know why. But if anybody deserved to keep playing, these guys certainly did. Connecticut did everything that they had to do.”
Galloway registered a game-high 25 on 8 of 13 shooting including 4 of 7 behind the arc. The senior guard had a chance to win the game in regulation, but mishandled the ball on the perimeter.
“I felt that they would overreact to the ball screen,” Martelli explained. “So what I wanted to do was we ran a fake ball screen. Halil came, and Lang put the ball through his legs, and I was tempted right then to grab another time‑out. We wanted the ball a little bit more centered than we got. We got stuck on the side.”
Galloway recovered the ball after losing his dribble but could not connect and the Hawks were whistled for a shot clock violation.
“If they said, you know, rewind, we’re going to do that again, then I would give him the ball again and let him make a play because both of the big plays he made last weekend, he had the ball,” Martelli continued. “Usually, we’ve been running him off things.
But I really wanted the ball in the center of the floor and Ron and Halil close to the basket for an offensive rebound opportunity.”
Galloway hit game-winning shots last weekend against Dayton in the Atlantic 10 quarter-finals and against VCU in the finals.
Bembry added 16 for the Hawks while Roberts chipped in 15. Wilson had 13 and Kanacevic 12.
Daniels scored 18 for UConn. Boatright added 17.
The overtime game was the fifth in NCAA Tournament history for UConn and first since 2008 (a 70-69 loss to San Diego). UConn improved to 2-3 in overtime NCAA Tournament games.
The win was the first in the NCAA Tournament for Ollie as a coach.
Since 1990, UConn is 17-2 in opening round games.
UConn improved to 5-2 all time against St. Joseph’s
St. Joseph’s last won in the NCAA Tournament on March 25, 2004 when the Hawks defeated Wake Forest, 84-80.
Galloway moved into second place all time on the Saint Joseph’s scoring list with 1,991. Jameer Nelson holds the mark at 2,094.
UConn will play Villanova in Saturday’s third round.