Every game feels like a must-win for UConn at this point, so when East Carolina took a nine-point lead into halftime Wednesday night, it felt like disaster was on the horizon for the Huskies...again.
UConn settled down in the second half, pulling away late for a 60-49 win at Minges Coliseum.
Ryan Boatright again led all scorers with 16 points, moving into elite company among UConn's all-time greats.
Ryan Boatright passes Cliff Robinson and is now in the top 10 on the UConn all-time scoring list.— Tim Fontenault (@Tim_Fontenault) February 26, 2015
Boatright now has 1,666 points, putting him seven points behind the late Wes Bialosuknia – "the Poughkeepsie Popper" – for ninth all time.
As important as Boatright's performance was the inside presence of Amida Brimah, who went to the bench with three fouls halfway through the second half.
Brimah quickly got a fourth foul when he came back in, but he continued to play aggressively. East Carolina had a chance to get back into the game, but the sophomore was not going to let that happen.
Our experts – Tim Fontenault, Elan-Paolo DeCarlo and Matt Gionfriddo – talked about Boatright, Brimah and more in our latest Postgame Talk.
Tim Fontenault: Well, they won a road game. Wonderful.
Before going forward, let's recognize Ryan Boatright, who moved into the top 10 on the all-time scoring list Wednesday, passing Cliff Robinson with 1,666 career points. UConn's last three point guards, Boatright, Shabazz Napier and Kemba Walker, are now in the top 10. Walker's predecessor, Jerome Dyson, is in 15th. This is Point Guard U, a trend which will continue with Jalen Adams. Boatright subtly commanded the game last night and helped get UConn over the hump.
We also saw Wednesday how important Amida Brimah is and how he changes the game when he's in there. I would have kept him in with three fouls and 10 minutes to go, but he did what he needed to do when he came back in. And let's ignore how atrocious those fourth and fifth foul calls were.
Elan-Paolo DeCarlo: Lower the pitchforks Husky fans, but I have to be critical of coach Kevin Ollie right now. What the hell was he thinking keeping Brimah off the floor for so long? That's an old Jim Calhoun tactic, two early fouls and benched for the remainder of the half. Sometimes, that's a useful strategy, but last night, ECU turned the game into a layup line whenever Brimah was off the floor. Against the wrong opponent, a team would be able to blow UConn out.
Daniel Hamilton is the best.
Fontenault: At first I couldn't tell if that last part was the new way you sign e-mails, but I get it. Daniel Hamilton is the real deal and is starting to leave his mark on every game.
I'll never understand the decision to bench Brimah. There are 10 minutes left and East Carolina is still in it. Brimah is not only a defensive force and an offensive asset, but he's a captain. You need him out there. We all saw how the game changed.
Two players I want to touch on are Omar Calhoun and Rodney Purvis. They had great looks last night. The shots simply wouldn't fall. Purvis did have a couple big threes, however, and I'm glad he took them. I'm never going to be upset with a shooter for shooting.
Matt Gionfriddo: Ollie has one national championship and the three of us have a combined zero so I'll go ahead and defend him. I was perfectly fine with him leaving Brimah on the bench in the first half. If he picked up his third foul we would have been in rough shape.
As for the second half, I think it could go either way. I would not have been surprised if Brimah was a little winded when he picked up his third, so Ollie decided to keep him out until the under-8 because he felt like we would have been fine without him in. If he was still in, and picked up his fourth with like eight minutes to go, then we would have been in trouble. Bottom line is that it was a three-minute stretch in the second half against ECU and we were able to get away with it so we did so I'm not too irked by the decision by KO.
I was really impressed with the way Purvis closed the game. Seemed like he was hearing it from the crowd all night and finally did something about it. As for Omar, good shooters keep shooting, right?
Fontenault: What did the ECU fans have against Rodney? I still don’t understand it. Was it just about him being the Raleigh kid, or did they think they needed to mess with his head to get him to miss?
I liked his composure. This goes back to when we talked about him being a closer. He hit the big shots when we needed them.
As for Omar, yes, keep shooting. They both need to keep shooting because that’s the only way they’ll heat up. (Tim with the major hot take.)
Gionfriddo: Yeah, I guess since he's from the area and then maybe since he chose two schools over ECU so they're mad at him? But, then it's like, well it is ECU, so why would he go there? The whole thing was very bizarre.
As for other players, I really liked what I saw from Kentan Facey. Only played 13 minutes off the bench, but he looked like the Facey we saw at the beginning of the year, finishing with four points and six rebounds. His role has been reduced since the beginning of the year, but if he can do what he did last night every time he comes in then that would be great.
Fontenault: Elan's jacket must be getting a bit dusty. Hopefully we see more out of Facey the rest of the season. They'll need it.
DeCarlo: The Facey jacket is still proudly worn by at least this blogger. I'm sure most of UConn's fans would prefer him out there instead of Phil Nolan, despite his recent strong play.
Fontenault: I'm Team Facey, obviously.
We need to talk about SMU. Three tries and three losses in two seasons. The Mustangs have dominated. Do they roll over UConn Sunday? What does UConn need to do – or better yet, what can it do?
DeCarlo: Bring Kemba, Shabazz and Ray Allen.
Fontenault: Solid plan. My ideal lineup would also include Jake Voskhul and Emeka Okafor because TEXAS FOREVER!