HARTFORD — For the first ten minutes, UConn was on upset alert.
The Sacred Heart Pioneers jumped out to a 23-12 lead, coach Kevin Ollie could not find a lineup that stuck, and the 8,563 fans at the XL Center were sufficiently confused.
Then, all of a sudden, the UConn men’s basketball team took off like a rocket. A perfectly timed 27-2 run later, the Huskies led 41-27 at the half and never looked back.
UConn continued their dominance throughout the second half to defeat Sacred Heart, 82-49.
“We keep making that mistake. I told our guys that we’re playing with fire with these slow starts, but I really like how we responded when we got down by 11. I just don’t like that pattern,” Ollie said.
Sophomore forward Daniel Hamilton displayed his all around excellence, scoring 14 points to go along with his 13 rebounds and seven assists. He has three double-doubles on the year. Junior Rodney Purvis led UConn (5-2) with 19 points. Purvis has now scored in double figures in 19 consecutive games. Jordan Allen scored 18 points to lead Sacred Heart (1-5).
UConn got off to a slow start, not registering a point until Kentan Facey’s two free throws 3:37 into the game. Freshman forward Steven Enoch had the Huskies’ first field goal a minute later, to make the score 9-4.
The Huskies would trail by as many as 11 in the first half. Hamilton found Shonn Miller for an easy dunk, sparking a 16-0 run from the Huskies. Purvis eventually gave the Huskies a 26-25 lead on a tough and-one layup. The Huskies would not trail for the rest of the game.
“Easy layups get me going,” Purvis said. “That got me going.”
From that point, the Huskies appeared to have flipped a switch, particularly on the defensive end. They limited the Pioneers to just 29 percent shooting, allowing just nine made baskets in the second half.
“When you hold a team (that low), that’s pretty good defense,” Ollie said. “I was very proud of the guys with how they responded…You don’t go on 18-0 runs, 27-2 runs if you’re not playing good defense.”
A key to their defensive success was in UConn’s ability to slow down Sacred Heart’s leading scorer, Cane Broome. Broome came into the game averaging over 23 points per game. He finished with seven points on 3-16 shooting.
“We just weren’t going to allow him to have open looks… Rodney did a good job. It was our focus to not give him easy buckets,” Ollie said.
It was another strong game from UConn’s starting five of Amida Brimah, Sterling Gibbs, Hamilton, Purvis and Shonn Miller. All but Miller finished with a plus/minus above 17 and all five scored at least 9 points.
“They’re so good defensively and so explosive offensively, that when we started missing shots, they just came at us with so much firepower that we couldn’t even stand it,” Sacred Heart coach Anthony Latina said.
The Huskies shot a 51 percent from the field in the second half to bury the Pioneers. In each of their four home victories, they have scored at least 82 points. The offense is firing on all cylinders.
With yet another blowout win under their belt, UConn looks ahead to their date with Maryland on Tuesday December 8 at Madison Square Garden. After dropping two games against name opponents in the Battle 4 Atlantis, the Huskies know the golden chance they have to bolster their postseason resume.
“If you don’t get fired up for that game, you might as well not put on the jersey,” Ollie said. “It’s an opportunity to play a great team, if we want to get in the tournament, we can’t let an opportunity like this slip. We have to start winning some of these games.”