With three players from the area, Shabazz Napier thought the UConn Huskies were going to get some love Friday night at the Barclays Center. Apparently, nobody told the Huskies they would be playing in Terp Land, but they still walked out of the building with a 78-77 victory despite a 2-to-1 disadvantage in fan support.
Outside of some cheers for local boy Omar Calhoun when the guard was introduced with the starting line up, there was a lot of love for Maryland all night long. Freshman Terrence Samuel and walk-on senior Tor Watts are also from Brooklyn.
“I thought we were home,” Napier said. “We’re so close, so close. We got three guys on the team that are from Brooklyn, so it’s kind of weird we were away. But we felt like we had a chance to win this game and we did our best and came out with a win.
The Terps have opened at the Barclays Center with losses the past two season (Kentucky in 2012) and singed a multi-year deal to play games there back in March. UConn’s other home besides Gampel Pavilion and the XL Center will be the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, where the Huskies will host Eastern Washington on Dec. 28.
SAY WHAT? After the game, Napier was still baffled by why he received a technical for talking with 11:43 left in the game. After stealing the ball from Dez Wells, Napier fed Ryan Boatright, who dunked, to give UConn a 67-50 lead. As the game entered a media timeout, Napier after said a few words – fired up from the play – and was hit with the T.
“All I said was ‘that’s what I do best,’” Napier said. “I’m passionate, so I am going to speak, so I was surprised he gave me a technical for it. I stole the ball and got the assist and all I said was ‘that’s what I do best.’ It’s not like I said or sweared or anything like that, but sometimes you have to go with it. I told the refs I apologized for talking and just went from there.”
A reporter replied, “that’s all you said?”
“Exactly,” Napier said.
Napier would foul out with 1:30 left in the game, leaving the Huskies to finish off the Terps without him.
Leftover Kevin Ollie quote:
On opening night’s performance:
“All our guys stayed together, that’s what it’s about. Shabazz gets in foul trouble and he fouls out with three minutes to go roughly. Boatright comes in and runs the team. Terrence comes in and makes a huge layup. Tyler (Olander) doesn’t even play the first half and comes out and hits a big-time three.
“And that’s what a team is about. We stay together. We fight together. And some things you can’t go over the top or go under, you go through. We went through that. I’m proud of my team. Very proud.”
On freshman Amida Brimah’s debut:
“What impressed me was his passion. I always said to him a lot ‘you are passionate about your passion.’ He’s just a great kid. He’s still learning the game, but he had some blocks where he didn’t even see his person and turned around, got an amazing block. And then you see his energy. Energy is contagious and when I out him in, he just changed the tempo of the game.”
Olander on winning without Napier at the end of the game:
“It definitely does give us confidence. Shabazz was still leading from the sidelines and during all the timeouts he’s talking to everybody giving them confidence, telling them we are still going to win the game. Even though he was off the court he still the leader. Guys like Terrence stepped up, I thought he did pretty well in there for a freshman. Amida did well. The young guys will step up and the leaders will lead, so I think we got a team that has a lot of weapons and intangibles that a lot of other teams don’t.”
Napier on Olander’s 3-pointer, which turned out to be the game-winning shot:
“He prepared himself in practice. We needed that shot and he knocked that boy down. I told him, that’s what you do best.”