After Thursday’s collapse at Temple, it was imperative for UConn to come out and perform well on Saturday to get back on track.
UConn did just that by defeating Tulsa, 75-73, in front of 10,167 at Gampel Pavilion, but it didn’t come easy. In fact, it was almost repeat of the Temple game.
“We definitely needed this one real bad,” Daniel Hamilton said. “Thursday was tough and if it happened again we would have been real disappointed. We just wanted to come out and get a win.”
UConn was up by 19 points with 14:51 left in the game, but Tulsa gradually clawed its way back. Pat Birt caught fire for the Golden Hurricane, scoring 21 points (5 of 7 from three) in the second half.
With 9:47 to go, Tulsa cut the lead to 10. Then Birt hit a jumper to cut the lead to single digits with 9:13 to go. Birt hit a three to make it 65-60 with 4:25 left and Shaquille Harrison made a layup to make it a 67-64.
“We made better decisions. We shot quick in the first half,” Tulsa coach Frank Haith said.
Tulsa (16-9, 8-5 the American) shot 31 percent in the first half and put up 52 points in the second half on 60 percent shooting.
Rodney Purvis made a floater in the lane with 42 seconds left to put UConn back up by five. Sterling Gibbs made four free throws and Hamilton made two in the final 23 seconds to seal the win for the Huskies.
“We stood up to their run,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “We know they’re a good team. We knew they were going to make a run but I was very proud of our guys.”
Five players scored in double figures for the Huskies. Omar Calhoun, who made his second start of the season, and Gibbs scored 14 points each. Hamilton finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Purvis scored 11 off the bench, eclipsing the 1,000-point mark for his career, and Shonn Miller added 10.
Birt led all scorers with 23 points. James Woodard, Tulsa’s leading scorer, finished with four points. Marquel Curtis had 14.
UConn (18-7, 8-4 the American) went on a 17-2 run in the first half to open up a 30-16 lead. Tulsa turned the ball over 10 times in the first half and made just 7 of 21 shots. The Huskies made six threes in the first half and shot 59 percent from the field to help UConn bring a 34-21 lead into halftime.
UConn opened the second half on a 10-5 run to stretch the lead to 20 points. But that’s when things got stagnant and Tulsa was able to come back. Up by five with 42 seconds left, the Huskies got two offensive rebounds — one by Hamilton and one by Jalen Adams — on consecutive possessions to help bleed the clock a bit.
Tulsa didn’t help themselves from the free-throw line, either. The Golden Hurricane missed 11 free throws (14 of 25). UConn made 10 of 11.
Although the Huskies almost blew another lead, Ollie was pleased with the team’s effort down the stretch and how they responded to Tulsa’s run in the second half.
“When we got our foot on somebody’s neck we just got to continue to keep punishing them,” Hamilton said. “I think we let the foot off the gas today. It’s just the will to win. We wanted to come out and win. That’s basically what it came down to is just toughness.”