NEW YORK — Despite about 35 minutes of listless and lifeless basketball, the UConn men’s basketball team came roaring back against No. 6 Maryland with a chance to win the ballgame.
The Huskies were nearly able to wipeout a Maryland lead that reached as high as 20, with 15 in the second half alone.
Let’s revisit the sequence of events: Daniel Hamilton drills a three pointer with 2:44 to play to bring UConn within three points. The Huskies were on a 13-2 run. Madison Square Garden, historically a kind home for UConn, was rocking.
All the momentum was with them.
What happens next could not have been scripted.
Jalen Adams commits a freshman mistake. While guarding the inbound pass, Adams extended his arm on Melo Trimble, forcing a whistle from the referee on the baseline. Trimble was headed to the line for a one-and-one opportunity.
“I think he held (Trimble),” coach Kevin Ollie said. “I wanted Jalen to deny him but not get a foul. I just thought it wasn’t a foul that needed to be called at the time.”
Then, all hell broke loose.
Incensed over the foul call, Ollie reached over to the scorer’s table, grabbed a stack of papers and tossed it onto the court.
Kevin Ollie, in his fourth year as UConn head coach, committed what was maybe the most ill-thought out and reckless act of the game.
He was immediately called for a technical foul.
“I just hit the stand where the stats people were. There were some stats there, my hands took the stats and that’s why they called the tech,” Ollie said. “The only thing I did was slap the table. I didn’t see the papers there, that’s why they went flying.”
Maryland was awarded two shots, and the ball, on top of the original one-and-one free throws from the Adams foul.
Trimble made three of the four ensuing foul shots, ballooning the lead to back to six, icing the game for the Terps.
Maryland finished the game on a 9-2 run. Ollie did not cite the technical foul as a reason for that shift.
“I don’t think (the technical) changed momentum. Melo hit a free throw, missed one, then he was going to the free throw line anyway. So, the lead would have been five, or six,” Ollie said.
The concept of momentum is one constantly argued in the statistical community. It might be impossible to quantify, but in the moment, it is palpable.
The technical foul was called with 2:44 left to play in the game. In the previous two minutes, Hamilton knocked down two three pointers and Rodney Purvis scored five points. The lead was down to three and the Madison Square Garden crowd was in a tizzy. The game was right there for the taking.
To say the technical foul did not take the wind out of UConn’s sails would be questionable. Maryland coach Mark Turgeon agreed.
“The technical definitely helped, there’ no doubt about it. We made three out of four at the line there. It went from three to six. So, it gave us an extra point but it helped us stem the tide,” Turgeon said.
It is impossible to say what would have happened had the technical foul not been called. Maybe Trimble misses the front end of the one-and-one and the Huskies tie it. Maybe he makes them both and Maryland ends the game right there anyway.
I wish we got to find out because the last five minutes of that game was amongst the most exciting of the Kevin Ollie era at UConn.
It’s too bad it was spoiled by Ollie’s technical.