For a game that was never in doubt of being close in crunch time, it sure was entertaining.
The UConn men’s basketball team hit nearly 50 percent of its three point attempts to cruise to an 85-66 victory over the University of New Hampshire.
UNH presented a challenge that No. 19 UConn (1-0) hadn’t seen in their two exhibition games and the season opener against Maine. For nearly the full 40 minutes, UNH played a zone defense and dared the Huskies to shoot the basketball.
It was a mistake.
“I’m glad we practiced our zone a little bit,” Ollie said. “It was good preparation for us…Our guys made 13 threes…It’s really going to prepare us, shooting 52 percent against a zone all night. (To do that) early in the season is great.”
The game opened with UConn’s starting guards, Sterling Gibbs and Rodney Purvis, carrying the pace, scoring the first 12 points for the Huskies.
“A lot of teams are going to show us zone, but we work hard every day on three point shooting. It’s something we put a lot of emphasis on,” Purvis said.
Gibbs and Purvis combined to shoot 7-10 from three point range in the first half, including several from well behind the stripe
“I don’t want to get into a shootout with Sterling, I’m not going to win those,” a laughing Purvis said. “I was able to hit a couple of shots. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about. Hopefully it loosened up the zone. I think that’s what led to what we did in the second half.”
Gibbs was electric shooting the ball all night. He finished with a game high 21 points on 7-13 shooting, 5-10 from distance. He’s led UConn in scoring in both games this season, quite a feat for the fifth year graduate student.
“I’m just trying to be myself. In the beginning, I wasn’t really attacking as much as I wanted to, but that’s what coach wanted me to do,” Gibbs, who finished with two assists, said. “I just really want to be the best version of myself.”
New Hampshire (0-1) stuck with UConn for most of the half, never letting the lead get to more than 10. The Wildcats got strong production all night out of the reigning America East conference Rookie of the Year, Tanner Leissner. He finished with a team high 20 points and added four rebounds.
“We were shorthanded... We just had to roll the dice and play the zone,” UNH head coach Bill Herrion said. “The threes hurt us...We didn’t contest the threes hard enough, but we don’t usually play zone.”
The Huskies went into the halftime break with a 39-29 lead, but they were mired in foul trouble. Amida Brimah, Shonn Miller, Daniel Hamilton and Phil Nolan were each whistled for two fouls.
In the second half, the UConn offense perked up with Hamilton able to play extended minutes. The final 20 minutes became the Daniel Hamilton show. He finished with 13 points, eight rebounds and five assists in 16 second half minutes.
His all around game, which was advanced last season when he was a freshman, has really blossomed. His impact on the UConn completely changed the game.
“Any player of his caliber, we want him to get better….He’s really trusting the offense,” Ollie said. “We’re allowing him to play the point guard on the break, outlet it to him and let him push it…At 6’6” he can look over the defense and that’s an added advantage for us.”
The Huskies grew the lead comfortably throughout the second half, eventually getting it as high as 19, which ended being the final margin.
Purvis continued his hot start throughout the game. He finished with 20 points.
Ollie once again was able to get good minutes from his whole roster. Eight players got more than 15 minutes on the floor, with two more playing 12 minutes. Senior forward Phil Nolan, who missed the season opener against Maine with a sprained foot, added nine points to lead the bench unit. Junior forward Kentan Facey added six rebounds and played strong defense in the place of Miller, who was unable to find a rhythm.
“Bringing Kentan in gave us good lift,” Ollie said. “To have a bench that we have, to have a senior (Nolan) and a junior (Facey) that have been through some wars and won a national championship, allows us to be a very good defensive team coming off the bench. They provided a spark.”
Although the competition has been below UConn’s talent level, there is no discounting how well they have opened their season. With the Battle 4 Atlantis and dates with Maryland and Ohio State looming, this team is already in midseason form.
“We can definitely learn from this. We might play Syracuse (in the Battle 4 Atlantis) they’re going to play zone, definitely. It’s really going to help us out going into games like that. It’s really a good test for us. We came out here, they ran zone, and that’s really helped us out for the Battle 4 Atlantis,” Hamilton said.
UConn is next in action Saturday Nov. 21, 2015 at Gampel Pavilion. They will host Furman (3-0) with tip-off scheduled for 12 p.m.