It took Daniel Hamilton a whole half to get going on Tuesday night, but once he found a rhythm, he changed the entire game.
Hamilton stuffed the stat sheet for the second consecutive game, finishing with 13 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, as No. 19 UConn defeated UNH, 85-66, in front of 9,047 at Gampel Pavilion.
After the game, New Hampshire head coach Bill Herrion had quite the compliment for the sophomore from Los Angeles. It was a comparison no one expected.
“I don’t know if I’m stretching a little bit but Magic Johnson,” Herrion said about who Hamilton reminds him of. “He’s a big guard and he gets in the paint. He’s a great, great passer, which I don’t think you find really in college basketball anymore.”
Earvin “Magic” Johnson played a bit before Hamilton’s time, but he admitted to watching some tape of Johnson, who is the NBA’s fifth in NBA history with 10,141 assists.
“It means a lot for me to go out there and just be versatile and look for my guys. And it’s really a blessing for him to call me somebody like Magic. I’ve definitely seen some highlights of Magic but I wouldn’t take it quite that far,” he said with a smile.
Hamilton played just eight minutes in the first half due to foul trouble. He did not score, had three rebounds and two assists at the break. It was in the second half that Hamilton did most — if not all — of his damage to help the UConn (2-0) maintain a double-digit lead against New Hampshire (1-1) and prevent the Wildcats from making a comeback.
In the second half, Hamilton tallied 13 points, eight rebounds and five assists in 16 minutes.
“I just wanted to stay positive throughout the whole game,” Hamilton said. “I knew the game would come to me eventually. Just continue to stay positive. I might have some slow starts but if I continue to stay positive everything will work out for the good.”
In UConn’s season opener against Maine last Friday, Hamilton almost had a triple-double, scoring seven points, grabbing nine rebounds and dishing out nine assists. He is able to affect the game, even when he isn’t scoring.
“Any player of his caliber we want him to get better,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said. “He’s just sharing the game. I think we made an emphasis in the preseason and exhibition games of trusting the offense and he’s really doing that. Amida [Brimah] is really finding his spots and he knows Daniel is going to get him the ball.”
Last season, Hamilton finished second in total assists with 128, falling just behind former standout point guard Ryan Boatright, who had 129. He led the team in rebounds (7.6 per game). Ollie thinks Hamilton’s passing has picked up a notch from a year ago.
“We’re really allowing him to play the point guard a little bit on the break and outlet it to him and let him push it,” Ollie said. “So that’s the little things we’re trying to do, especially when he’s at the four [position], a lot of defenders aren’t really aware of that and not used to playing a four-man that’s pushing the ball as a point guard.”
But it also helps when your teammates are knocking down their shots.
“I take some pride in it, but it’s my teammates that help me to get those assists,” Hamilton said. “That’s what really helped me out there tonight. Purv [Rodney Purvis] was knocking down shots, Sterling [Gibbs] was knocking down shots and Amida is usually always finishing at the rim so those guys really helped me out tonight.”
Purvis and Gibbs both made five 3-pointers each Tuesday night.
Not expecting to see a zone defense from New Hampshire on Tuesday, Hamilton and UConn were able to make adjustments in the second half. The Huskies led 39-29 at half time. Hamilton and the Huskies were able to pull away in the second half, outscoring the Wildcats 46-37.
“He hurt us in the second half,” Herrion said. “They made adjustments in the zone offense and we just weren’t containing him and he wasn’t getting into the paint and everything was opening up.”
Ollie said that his versatility is a huge advantage for the Huskies.
“Plus with the vision that he has and being 6’6” and being able to look over the defense,” Ollie said, “I think it’s an added advantage to us and added an advantage to him.”