STORRS, Conn. – Before DeAndre Daniels could talk to reporters following Connecticut’s 79-78 double overtime loss to No. 7 Georgetown Wednesday night, he had to stop by the trainer’s room for a little relief.
After 49 minutes of some ridiculous, rock’em, sock’em battling with the Hoyas, Daniels found himself in need of ice bags for virtually every part of his body. And as much as the treatment helped with his soreness, Daniels knew there was nothing he could do to ease the disappointment from this defeat.
“My body is banged up,” said Daniels, who produced game highs in points (25) and rebounds (10). “I’ve never really felt like this. My back, my knees, my shoulder, everything is killing me right now. We’re really disappointed. It’s going to be pretty tough to get over it. We had this game and we gave it away. There was plenty of time we could have put our heads down and given up.”
Call this one an instant classic. Or just file it away under the heading of old-fashioned Big East Conference basketball. Either way, it was something special.
By the end of the evening, the sellout crowd of 10,167 at Gampel Pavilion understood why Georgetown (22-4, 12-3 Big East) sits on top of the conference standings. And a national television audience should have a better understanding of what UConn (19-8, 9-6) has accomplished without the incentive and motivation of postseason play pushing the Huskies toward March.
“I thought I had seen it all, but I guess I haven’t. . . . I’m very proud of my guys,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “Adversity is the intersection between character and opportunity. This team has character and we had a great opportunity.”
This was UConn’s tournament championship game, a chance to add the Hoyas to a wall of ranked-team trophies that includes Michigan State, Notre Dame, and Syracuse. There is no Big East tournament and no NCAA tournament for the Huskies because of their ban for academic deficiencies in the past.
“It was a very, very, very emotional game, man,” said guard Ryan Boatright, who had 11 points and eight assists but missed shots at the end of both overtime periods. “These losses are the toughest. We fought so hard to win the game. You give it your all and you just fall short. These are the toughest pills to swallow.”
Otto Porter Jr., coming off a 33-point performance at Syracuse, scored 21 of his 22 points after halftime and hit the winning basket for the Hoyas, who won their 10th consecutive game. Markel Starks scored 19 points and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera added 14 points and three steals, including a strip of Napier (16 points) that led to Porter’s winning layup with 9.5 seconds left.
For the Hoyas, it was their first victory in four attempts at Gampel Pavilion. But it didn’t come easy. Georgetown shot 28.6 percent in the first half and trailed 22-19 at halftime. When Porter, 7-for-12 from the field, found his touch, the Hoyas put together a 9-0 run early in the second half and built their lead to 60-48 with 4:36 left in regulation.
UConn had shots to win at the end of regulation and on the final possession of the first OT. The Huskies also had a 78-71 lead with two minutes remaining in the second overtime. But Georgetown showed its resilience, just as the Hoyas have all season long.
“The guys in the other locker room, they could have cashed it in,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. “They fought and fought and fought. We had our chances to end it. We didn’t. Then we could have cashed it in. We fought and fought and fought.
“I mean, Hartford, Storrs, Fairfield, wherever this game . . . this was a great game. Our guys competed for however many minutes this game ended up being. Their guys competed. Good game. Good game as a fan to watch, wasn’t it? It’s a lot easier for me to sit here and say that than it’s going to be for Kevin.”
After missing 13 consecutive shots and going 11 minutes and six seconds without a field goal in the first half, the Hoyas hit eight three-pointers in the second half and started putting the ball into the hands of Porter.
“In the second half, I think we had more movement,” Thompson said. “And on top of everything else, the guys did a better job of getting 22 the ball.”
Trailing by 12 with the clock winding down in regulation, UConn mounted its comeback. Freshman Omar Calhoun (13 points) started a 9-0 run with a three-pointer. Daniels hit two free throws with 2:30 left to pull the Huskies within 60-57.
With Napier forced to the bench for three minutes after injuring his right foot early in the second half, Daniels picked up the slack. It was the first double-double of his career and the first double-double for the Huskies this season.
“I had a double-double?” Daniels said. “It’s not bad, but I didn’t really know that. I didn’t look at [the box score], I was so mad. I just came out and my teammates found me and I was able to knock down shots.”
Napier has had problems with his right foot for over a year. He was wearing a protective boot after the game but said it was just precautionary.
The game went to overtime when Boatright found Calhoun open on the left wing and Calhoun drained another three with 2.2 seconds left in regulation. Niels Giffey stole the inbound pass but missed a short jumper at the buzzer.
There were nine ties and eight lead changes in the game, but the Huskies appeared to be comfortably ahead leading 78-71 with two minutes left in the second OT. UConn didn’t score again. Porter hit a three. So did Smith-Rivera. Then the Huskies got very sloppy on offense. The biggest turnover came when Smith-Rivera stripped the ball from Napier.
The Hoyas got the ball ahead to their leading man and that was it.
“I don’t really know what happened, it happened so fast,” Daniels said when asked how Porter got free in the middle of the lane. “We didn't get back really good on defense and he leaked out.”
Thompson said he wanted to have an advantage in transition, so he didn’t call timeout.
“He makes winning plays,” Thompson said of Porter. “Coming down at the end right there, I said, ‘Let’s get a stop and then let’s just get it to Otto and go. Let’s just push it.’ If I didn’t like what I saw I was going to call a timeout. I didn’t want to call a timeout and let them set up their defense.”
Porter's first concern was on defense. Once he had the ball, the look on his face showed his determination to win the game.
"First, we were just trying to get the stop," Porter said. "That's what I was worried about. Once we got it, I just sprinted to the lane."
The crowd at Gampel gave the Huskies an ovation as they left the floor. The student section chanted Ollie’s name. But UConn didn’t leave the building with the same feeling as the Hoyas. No ice pack could take that pain away.
“Everything happens for a reason and this is teaching us another life lesson through this book that we’re writing,” Ollie said. “Another chapter.”