HARTFORD — Saturday’s game between UConn and Georgetown had an old-time feel to it. The crowd at the XL Center was as loud as it has been during any game this year and the game itself was filled with runs, emotion and energy. It reminded fans how much fun the Big East was.
In front of a sell-out crowd of 15,564 at the XL Center, the Huskies and the Hoyas played another game (the 65th meeting between the two and first since 2013) that was filled with excitement and energy.
“This is a normal Big East game,” Georgetown head coach John Thompson III said. “That’s what Georgetown and Connecticut is about. I’ve not known any other atmosphere up here.”
It is hard to imagine how UConn won this game, however. The Huskies shot 50 percent (13 of 26) in the first half and took a 40-33 into the locker room. But the second half got weird.
UConn only made four field goals after half time (4 of 21), yet they managed to get to the free throw line 25 times, making 20, to squeak out a 68-62 win over their old rivals.
“We couldn’t make a basket,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said of the second half performance. “We had some open looks but we started attacking… just putting some different plays in and letting our playmakers challenge the rim. I thought Rodney [Purvis] did a real good job making 7 of 8 free throws. Sterling [Gibbs] was attacking the whole game.”
UConn has now won three games in a row.
The Huskies needed to get to the line, too. UConn (14-5) started the second half by missing its first seven shots and 15 of its first 16. Phil Nolan got the Huskies first field goal on a tip in 7:12 into the half.
Ollie liked the looks the Huskies were getting, but no shots were falling. Getting to the line was key if UConn was going to win this game. The Huskies were shooting free throws with over 15 minutes left in the second half due to Georgetown getting in foul trouble.
“That’s what they do,” Thompson said. “Did I anticipate them being in the 1-and-1 with almost 15 minutes left to go in the half? No. But they do attack the rim. That’s what they do.”
UConn led by as many as eight points with 18:45 left in the second half. But Georgetown (12-8) would come back and actually take the lead.
The Hoyas opened the half on an 18-9 run to take a 51-49 lead. Georgetown’s leading scorer, D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, had three points in the first half, but he opened the second by hitting two threes to cut UConn’s lead to 43-42.
Smith-Rivera didn’t score after another field goal until there was 4:32 left, but that shot gave the Hoyas a 62-60 lead and those were the last last points Georgetown would score.
“It’s all Phil Nolan,” Ollie said of limiting Smith-Rivera. “Phil Nolan on the pick and rolls. They do a lot of those things to get him off pick and rolls. He was hedging. Our guards kept pursuing. And then Phil was doing a hell of a job.
UConn closed the game on an 8-0 run, holding the Hoyas scoreless for the final 4:32.
“We come down to the end and we made some bad plays,” Thompson said. “It’s nothing other than that. We just didn’t make the plays necessary to win the game.”
The Hoyas turned the ball over three times and missed their last five shots in the final 4:32.
“We shot a low percentage,” Ollie said. “We had good looks. We just didn’t make them but our defense was strong and that’s what we hang our hats on. It was just an unbelievable job by the players.”
Smith-Rivera finished the game with 12 points, four fewer than his season average.
Purvis led UConn with 17 points off the bench. Gibbs scored 16.
The Hoyas were able to come back because of their three-point shooting. They made five in the second half. But they shot 31 threes the entire game, only making nine (29 percent).
“I think when you look at it at the end and you say ‘Wow we took 31’…it’s easy to say ‘God that’s too many threes,’” Thompson said. “But during the course and flow of the game they were wide open for our good shooters.”
Ollie was pleased with the perimeter defense from his team and credited the defense for the win.
“On the year they’re shooting like 40 percent…to hold them to 29 percent, I thought our defense was outstanding,” Ollie said. “Everybody was talking. Everybody was communicating and that’s how we stay connected.”