By David F.P. [Modest Image Gallery]
HARTFORD, CT- In the midst of a losing streak and without their hall of fame head coach, the UConn Huskies took the court against Big East foe, the St. John’s Red Storm. St. John’s had plenty of good wins to their credit coming into the night and there was certainly plenty of danger of another loss in the air. George Blaney took to the court as interim head coach for the first time since Coach Jim Calhoun’s announcement he was taking a leave of absence.
Early on things were tense as the Huskies and Red Storm both seemed awkward, but the Huskies especially so. St. John’s struck first pulling out to a 2-0 lead, but a foul put UConn on the line and the two shots were made, St. John’s struck back to take a 4-2. On a following play UC’s Charles Okwandu unleashed a block to deny Malik Boothe. Boothe had actually been wide open down court and Okwandu arrived to block the shot in the nick of time. The teams traded some fouls, until Jamal Coombs-McDaniel’s shot took the lead for the U of C. Dele Coker hit a shot from the side the net to make it 6-7 STJ, and Sean Evans went over the UConn defender to score another 2. Jerome Dyson picked up a rebound and passed it to Coombs-McDaniel only to have him fouled. He made one, missed one and the score was 7-9. St. John’s Anthony Mason Jr. dribbled to the center of the zone and shot one in to extend the lead to 7-11. There was some battling back and forth to follow, though soon afterward Dyson hit a jumper from just inside the arc to pull back within 2. St. John’s missed a shot and UConn went on the attack, Dyson let a beautiful no look pass fly, but it was missed by his connection and went out of bounds.
STJ missed an open 3, but a teammate got the rebound, and Dwight Hardy picked up 2. Later on Stanley Robinson broke up a shot attempt, and 2 points would soon follow for the Huskies and it was 11-13. Each side managed to miss a few shots and rebound a bit with little scoring, however on a missed St. John’s shot, UConn grabbed the ball and the pass ended up in the hands of Ater Majok who slammed it home to tie the game at 13-13. The Red Storm headed back into the attack, though they couldn’t get a shot off until close to the shot clock expiring, unfortunately for UConn Boothe hit the fadeaway shot at the last second. Gavin Edwards picked up his second foul on an ensuing play, and had to sit, the Red Storm drove for another 2 points to add to the lead.
After some more awkward play, St. John’s missed another shot, but the Huskies grabbed it and sent an express mail pass to Robinson who delivered the slam to cut the lead. D.J. Kennedy responded for the red Storm with a jumper to regain the 4 point lead. Another Red Storm shot missed, but they rebounded it and put it in. With the score 21-15 St. John’s UConn called a time out as the fans began to visibly worry. Throughout the game, UConn seemed to be losing the rebound battle big time giving the Red Storm more shots, and it was frustrating those in the stands.
When play resumed UConn attempted to score, but the shot clock ran down, Kemba Walker didn’t let that stop him from making the last second shot. Soon afterward he picked up a rebound and drove all the way to basket. Next U o f C possession Okwandu did quite an aerial maneuver under the basket to get the ball up and into the hoop to tie the game 21-21. The crowd returned to the game excited.
Justin Burrell got the lead back for the Red Storm with a 2 pointer, but not soon afterward Dyson stood by the 3 point line and found Okwandu inside, resulting in a slam. Another time out was called and the score 23-23 with 4 left in the 1st half.
St. John’s attempted more offense but Alex Oriakhi this time blocked the attempt, though the Red Storm recovered the ball they did not score immediately, though Mason did add 2 points, only to have Dyson drain a three to take a 26-25 lead and, not soon afterward a second 3 to make it 29-25. Robinson added a deep 2 pointer to extend things further. STJ’s Kennedy drove and picked up 2 in response and the foul, which he hit the free throw on, and it was 31-28 going into the half.
After a tumultuous early minutes, the Huskies had the fan base fired up again and for a team ranked abysmally in three pointers nationally, the use of them, which would continue was a welcome addition.
The second half opened with Robinson scoring to build on the lead, their opponents went for the basket and got fouled and 2 made free throws later it was 33-30. Though it didn’t take Walker long to drain another 3 and it was 36-30. Dyson then stole the ball and laid it in to make it 38-30. St. John’s called a time out and the crowd exploded.
Play resumed and Paris Horne scored 2 for the Red Storm, but Walker returned fire to keep the lead at. Not long after he stole the ball and went all the way for another 2. Kennedy blunted the rally when he hit a 3 to cut the lead to 7 42-35, but Dyson responded with a beautiful three pointer to make it 10 again. Gavin Edwards, who did not have a great first half was back in the game for Connecticut and he picked up a defensive rebound, on the ensuing drive, he then picked up an offensive rebound and a foul call, leading the crowd to give him a round of applause on the turnaround. A time out was called with Connecticut up by 10 and 15 to play.
Hardy hit a three for St. John’s to cut the lead again, and UConn headed for the hoop, the Huskies had to call a time out when they got pinned down, and on the ensuing play a pass was bobbled only St. John’s then bobbled the steal right out of bounds. Eventually though St. John’s was on the attack again, yet as a player set up either a pass or a shot, Robinson blocked it, knocking it into a teammate’s hands and eventually the pass returned to him and he hit an open 3, 48-38.
The Red Storm’s stalwart Kennedy picked up 2 and the foul, but the three throw missed. A STJ player grabbed it but stumbled out of bounds. Edwards eventually ended up making two points down on the attack and the foul to the crowd’s joy. St. John’s then was called for goal tending on a Dyson drive.
The visitor’s did pick up 2 after what seemed like 4 missed shots, but subsequent offensive rebounds. Soon afterward they benefited from a fast break, but the layup was missed Connecticut then picked up 2 more points. A foul on Horne gave him 2 free throws and he made one. UConn exploded on another breakaway and this time it was Donnell Beverly with the slam. The score was 56-43 and the time out was called. The game was essentially over at this point.
But play continued with STJ scoring, then a Oriakhi slam extending the lead, more fast breaks went back and forth with little actual scoring, though Kennedy picked up 2 more points and later stole the ball went in, was fouled and hit two. The lead was 58-49. A foul on Horne gave him 2 to shoot and he made one, cutting the lead to 58-50. Dyson hit two to get back to ten, and a rebound by Edwards on a following play sent the ball into Walker’s hands. At close range he jumped and let the ball go , it sailed gracefully into the net. Edwards would pick up another rebound and Walker again was scoring this time from under the net to bring the score to 64-50.
St. John’s took advantage of two foul shots, but time was rapidly disappearing. Walker stole the ball and drove, but the eventual shot by the Huskies was missed. The Red Storm headed back down to attack, but Robinson denied them with a huge block out of play. St. John’s was unable to make anything out of that, and not long from then Robinson drained a 3 as time nearly ran out on the shot clock. It was 67-52 with 3 to play.
The Red Storm kept at it, but so did the Huskies for the remaining 3, but with some fairly even point trading the score wrapped up at 75-59 breaking the UConn losing streak and giving George Blaney a win