Napier, Huskies take 2K Championship with thrilling 59-58 win over Indiana at MSG. Story by Tim Gaffney.
POSTED November 24, 2013
New York, New York: It was freshman on freshman on the games final play of the 2K Classic, held in the mecca of basketball, Madison Square Garden.
Indiana trailed the University of Connecticut by a point at 59-58 with but .07 seconds left on the clock after a back and forth second half and had one more chance at pulling out the win.
Hoosier freshman sensation Noah Vonlem took the inbound and got off a 20-foot shot over Huskie phenom Amida Brimah but the shot hit the side of the rim, giving UConn a thrilling 59-58 win and the trophy for the 2K Championship.
The Huskies improve to 6-0 after their two wins in New York and found out they can get things done even when they are not getting their shots to fall.
For the second consecutive night, UConn shot poorly from the floor, hitting on just 39 percent against the Hoosiers who lost their first game of the year after five straight wins of their own.
Both games were tough and hard fought. In their Thursday night win over Boston College, a steady march to the free throw line prevented UConn from getting their transition running game going.
On Friday night, with their shots still failing to find the bottom of the Garden nets, it took a special player stepping up as he has in so many cases for his team over the last three years.
Shabazz Napier led all scorers with 27 and put the team on his back at critical times either with a crucial jumper or an assist that prevented the Hoosiers from maintaining their momentum.
Both games taught their head coach a thing or two about the character of this years team.
"I told them before the game that these games will be about heart not skill," Kevin Ollie said. "We found out quite a bit about ourselves."
Indiana came in with a dramatic rebounding advantage against their previous opponents, an area that was not a strong suit for the Huskies coming in but UConn stayed close all night and the Hoosiers held just a 35-33 final tally.
To say this one started slow would be an understatement, it was a 30-24 game in favor of UConn at the half. The Hoosiers had broken the century mark the night before while the Huskies put up 78.
Napier gave the Huskies that lead with back to back three-pointers and did it time and time again when his team needed it down the stretch.
"Shabazz is a warrior," Ollie said. "Some players run from the moment, he doesn't."
Seemed whenever the Huskies needed a big play, the senior guard, who came back to play his senior year after thinking about the NBA, came up with one.
"I was telling somebody before I came in (interview room) that that's 10-12 year pro," Hoosier head coach Tom Crean said. "I don't care about size, he creates so much seperation that he gets his shot off regardless."
UConn grabbed a seven-point lead four minutes into the second half after Ryan Boatright (nine points) scored on a one-on-one move in the lane but Indiana refused to go away.
With Vonleh on the bench with four fouls most of the second half, sophomore guard Yogi Ferrell led the way with 19 points and created offense when needed.
The Hoosiers would come back and actually go up by five points at 51-46 with just over five minutes to play, setting up the Napier heroics.
It started with a three-pointer that put the Huskies up 52-51 for the moment, continued with an assist to Deandre Daniels that led to a three pointer as well.
A traditional three-point play by Ferrell gave his team the lead again but Napier answered with another jumper and a 57-56 lead.
Jeremy Hollowell scored his teams final points with a put back basket for a 58-57 lead with just over two minutes to go.
Big players love the big moment and there were still plenty of them left for the energetic Garden crowd to revel in.
Tyler Olander (four points, four board and two steals) played very well for Ollie on Friday night and came up with his play of the year to date when he stole a ball under the basket which led to another Napier drive to the basket that resulted in the games final points.
"I am so proud of how Tyler has handled himself on and off the court," Ollie said. "He played real well out there tonight."
There was plenty of game and suspense left in this one though but it came down to three plays.
Napier was called for a charge with 22.4 to go on a close call that went against the Huskies, giving Ferrell and company a chance to run the clock down for a final shot.
Indiana got the play they wanted, one that ended with Ferrell taking a jumper from the right side of the top of the key but it hit the left side of the rim and was coralled on the floor by a sliding Niles Giffey who was ruled out of bounds before he could call timeout.
The clock said .02 but upon further review, the referees but it back to ,07, time for a pass and shoot prayer.
That prayer fell on deaf ears when Vonleh missed and the Huskies walked off with the 2K Classic Trophy.
Napier earned the Most Valuable Player award for his performances in both games that continue to show him as one of the top guards in the country.