PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) - Kevin Ollie had no intention of leaving star guard Shabazz Napier on the bench long after a couple of errant shots and a behind-the-back pass to no one in the opening 25 minutes.
It was just a reminder to calm down and get your thoughts together.
Napier did just that and scored 20 of his 26 points in the second half and Connecticut (16-4, 4-3 American Athletic Conference) posted a much-harder-than-expected 82-71 victory over Rutgers on Saturday night.
“I put the ball in his hands in different situations,” Ollie said. “You know he drives me crazy sometimes but that’s the guy I am going to count on and put the ball in his hands. I know he is going to make a couple of mistakes here and there but he is going to be rock solid when I need him the most. That second half was up there with a lot of great second halves. You put the ball in his hands and he is going to make play after play after play.”
The senior guard was 2 of 11 from the field five minutes into the second half. He suddenly regained the scoring touch that allowed him to tally 30 against Louisville and 27 against Temple in his last two outings and Rutgers (8-12, 2-5) could not slow him down as he scored almost at will.
“I wasn’t making shots and when I’m not making shots I have to feel out how to get myself going,” said Napier, who finished 7 of 18 from the field and 10 of 11 from the free throw line. “I got to the free throw line a lot and I was shooting well at the free throw line and you learn how to get your confidence back up and you start scoring from the free throw line you start to see the ball go through the hoop and get yourself going.”
“If you have a great player like that and you open the floor up and let him do his thing and he’s cooking, it’s a hard thing to guard because he’s a good passer, he sees the floor, he’s unselfish, and yet he’s an assassin,” Jordan said.
Ryan Boatright added 12 points and Amida Brimah had 10 points and eight rebounds as the Huskies won for the fifth time in six games and handed Rutgers its third straight loss and fifth in six games.
Jerome Seagears and Kadeem Jack had 19 points apiece for Rutgers in what will probably be the final conference game between the long-time rivals. The Scarlet Knights will join the Big Ten Conference next season.
“Maybe this is the last time we play in the RAC, and it was good to come out with a win,” Ollie said.
A big part of the Connecticut win was its defense on Scarlet Knights leading scorer Myles Mack (16.5 points) He scored a season-low six points on 2 of 9 shooting. He had scored in double figures in 11 straight games.
“..It was a good team effort, but Boatright definitely played good defense on him,” Napier said.
Rutgers had used a run early in the second half to take one of its few leads of the game, and it was tied at 46 after Jack, who also had 11 rebounds, hit a jumper.
Boatright put the Huskies ahead with a layup and Napier followed with a 3-pointer. He would score 14 of the next 19 points for Connecticut, including eight in a row that allowed it to build a 62-56 lead.