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UConn came to New York this week on a mission to win a championship trophy.
The Huskies won a spirited 2K Sports Classic Championship game against Indiana, riding the heroics of senior Shabazz Napier who had a season-high 27 points.
The final: 59-58.
“We seized this moment,” coach Kevin Ollie said. “It was a great atmosphere and our fans were incredible.”
Napier delivered big shot after big shot, scoring 11 points in the final seven-plus minutes. He earned the championship’s most valuable player honor.
“Some people run away from the moments, he embraces them,” Ollie said. “It’s just a special quality to have as a young man. … He’s just a special player.”
Some news, notes, quotes and video from tonight’s thrilling win:
-- Put Napier’s clutch performance right up there with the best in UConn history at Madison Square Garden.
He has an amazing sense of when to take over a game. He scored the game-winning basket on a driving layup with 1:34 remaining.
“I just told myself my team needs me, and I went out there and made some plays,” Napier said.
-- The officials had a rough night. There were several questionable calls on both teams.
Napier didn’t care for the offensive charge call against him with 22.4 seconds left. The turnover gave the Hoosiers a chance to win the game.
“It was a bonehead play,” Napier said. “I should have passed it. I didn’t think it was a charge. Yogi (Ferrell) fell and I was going toward the basket. With the new hand-checking rules, it’s supposed to be foul on Yogi.”
It’s a safe bet that Indiana freshman sensation Noah Vonleh wasn’t happy with the officiating. Foul trouble limited him to just 10 minutes. He had a season low for points (0) and rebounds (2).
“That’s huge,” Ollie said of Vonleh’s foul trouble.
-- UConn received important contributions for graduate student Lasan Kromah and senior Tyler Olander.
Kromah used his 6-foot-6 frame to try to both Ferrell in the final minutes. He finished with four points, two rebounds, two steals and one block in 19 minutes.
Olander filled in for his foul-prone teammates, Phil Nolan and Amida Brimah. He played his best game this season, chipping in four points, four rebounds, two steals and one block in a season-high 24 minutes.
“You’ve just got to be ready when your number is called…,” Olander said. “I just tried to give energy and hustle plays.”
Both players had a key steal in the final minute. Olander stripped Troy Williams on the baseline with 1:03 remaining.
“I don’t think he expected that,” Olander said of the steal.
-- The Madison Square Garden atmosphere was tremendous. Fans from both sides rooted hard and loud for their respective teams. Attendance was 10,051, but it felt like much more.
“I appreciate all the UConn fans that showed up and supported us,” junior Ryan Boatright said. There were a lot of them out there.”
Napier added: “When I come to a game, I just see a lot of blue and white. I really didn’t hear the Indiana fans.”
-- UConn had only Napier on the all-tournament team. Ferrell and Will Sheehey represented Indiana while Washington’s C.J. Wilcox and Boston College’s Ryan Anderson rounded out the team.
-- It was an ugly game at times. The Huskies had a season-high 17 turnovers. They shot just 39.6 percent. The Hoosiers had 19 turnovers and shot 40.8 percent.
-- Napier was the only UConn player to score in double figures. Omar Calhoun (1-for-7, two points), DeAndre Daniels (2-for-8, seven points) and Ryan Boatright (2-for-9, nine points) had rough offensive games.
Daniels did make a key 3-pointer with 3:29 left that capped a 9-2 run and handed UConn a 55-53 lead.
-- UConn limited Indiana to a season-low 35 rebounds, including 11 on the offensive end. The Huskies lost the battle of the boards by just two.
Today’s American Athletic Conference Championship semifinal doubleheader is underway here at the XL Center in Hartford. A crowd in the 12,000-13,000 range is expected for the UConn-Tulsa game. Tip-off time is 5 p.m.