HARTFORD, Conn. – It would be accurate to say Connecticut’s 84-50 victory Monday was one for the record books. The Huskies enjoyed a rather remarkable night of shooting, hitting 66 percent from the floor overall and 52.6 percent of their three-point attempts. Freshman Omar Calhoun (22 points) and sophomore Ryan Boatright (5 three-pointers) established a couple of career highs.
All of that was pleasant on the eyes.
But remember this came against Maryland Eastern Shore, a team that is now winless in 10 tries this season. The Hawks were clearly overmatched from the start and their effort and energy in the second half – when they were outscored 45-23 – left quite a bit to be desired.
Even UMES coach Frank Allen would tell you that.
“Their kids play hard all the time,” Allen said of the Huskies (8-2). “We kind of hung in there for a little longer than they probably anticipated. But in the second half, they turned it up. They have that second gear. We really didn’t come out and compete in the second half like I hoped we would.”
It would have taken a special effort from Allen’s team to defeat the Huskies on the night they honored the 26 dead in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy from Friday morning. There was a moment of silence before the game to honor the victims. The Governor’s Foot Guard presented arms and a children’s choir sang the national anthem.
The most touching part of the ceremony came when 26 members of the dance team and cheerleading squad, each walking with a candle, formed a circle around the mid-court Huskies logo. The players joined them in the circle during the moment of silence. In addition to the white and green “SH” patch on their jerseys, several players had prepared individual tributes.
Boatright used a marker to write SH on his cheek. Shabazz Nappier had a white warmup shirt that read “Sandy Hook 26.” Other players wrote messages on their shoes, such as “Be blessed” and “Never forget 26 souls.”
”It was just a great tribute to all the victims,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said.
The Hawks did a poor job of getting back on defense in transition. That's a big mistake against this UConn team and it translated into uncontested shots for the Huskies, who shot 62.5 percent in the first half and 69.2 percent in the second half.
Calhoun and Boatright helped to elevate those shooting percentages, combining to hit 16 of 21 shots from the floor. Calhoun scored 13 of his career-high 22 points in the second half. Boatright scored 13 of his 21 in the first half when the Huskies built a 39-27 lead at halftime.
“Omar and Ryan have been doing extra work,” Ollie said. “I know it [was good] ball movement, but you still have to make the shot. We call it “BD.” Basketball Development. They’ve been doing extra work, not just the two hours we have in practice. It’s staying after with Coach [Karl] Hobbs and Coach [George] Blaney and Coach [Glen] Miller. Coming in on their own and shooting. That’s what they’ve been doing and it’s going to pay off.”
Calhoun was 1-for-11 in his last two games, scoring five points against North Carolina State and going scoreless against Harvard.
“I was getting in the gym morning and night and after practice, getting a lot of shots up, working on different things,” said Calhoun, who was 8-for-11 from the field. “I was unhappy with the way I was playing and I was happy the break [for final exams] came when it came.”
Boatright set a new career high with five three-pointers, hitting all but one attempt from that range. It was the first time a UConn has player has made five or more threes in one game since Shabazz Napier hit six against Florida State on Nov. 26, 2011.
“Just putting up extra shots and getting more repetitions, getting my form right and getting my rhythm,” Boatright said of his “BD” work. “It’s a matter of shooting game shots after practice and during practice. Just doing the things I did in high school to get me where I’m at now. I fell off and I had to get myself together. You go back to the gym on your own time. Nobody forces you.”
The Huskies made 10 of 19 three-pointers and were 33 of 50 from the field. It was the first 60 percent shooting performance for the Huskies since they shot 60.4 percent against St. John’s on Dec. 31, 2011 and UConn’s fourth-highest shooting percentage since 1980.
UConn, which also got 13 points from DeAndre Daniels on 6 of 9 shooting, had 21 assists on 33 baskets and only nine turnovers. Those were numbers that pleased Ollie.
“I think we were moving the ball a lot quicker than we usually do,” said Napier, who scored 11 points, making all four shots he took, and had eight assists with just four turnovers. ‘At the same time, the defense was giving us so much. Everyone was so hot we kept on shooting, kept on shooting and we were fortunate enough to make a lot of shots.”
Ollie decided to rest guard R.J. Evans, giving him more time to recover from his clavicle injury before Big East play begins. But he still used 14 players. Freshman Leon Tolksdorf logged 20 minutes and scored four points, including his first field goal – a three-pointer – in a Huskies uniform. Phil Nolan played 16 minutes and scored six points.
Nolan was on the floor to close the game with four walk-ons – Pat Lenehan, Trey James, Dave Vandal and Tor Watts.
“Going into the Big East season, I wanted to use these three [non-conference] games to see what we have on that bench and what guys can do,” Ollie said. “Phillip and Leon have been doing a terrific job. When you continue to work, results have got to follow. . . . Everybody has got to be alive on our team. Our margin of error is not that big.”