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Men's Basketball: Thoughts From UConn's Nervy Win at Tulane

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They won the game. That's all that matters, right?

Sterling Gibbs' big-time performance in the final minutes lifted UConn past Tulane in New Orleans.
Sterling Gibbs' big-time performance in the final minutes lifted UConn past Tulane in New Orleans.
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Never a dull moment on the road in the American.

UConn was dominating in the second half of Saturday's conference opener at Tulane. The Huskies went into halftime up nine, then hit five shots in a row to take a 19-point lead early in the second half.

Tulane came storming back. UConn started missing shots and the Green Wave chipped away at the lead. Before long, they were up two. To make matters worse, UConn was in massive foul trouble.

But then Sterling Gibbs started hitting crazy shots, Tulane couldn't make its free throws down the stretch and UConn survived, 75-67.

This game was weird, but in a way, did anyone expect UConn to run away with this one? The Huskies have struggled on the road in conference play, especially early on. UConn is actually 1-0 in conference play for the first time ever under Kevin Ollie.

Here are a few observations from the game:

Will we ever see a full 40?

There were bits and pieces of good play from UConn in the first half today, especially late when the Huskies pulled ahead by ten. It seemed UConn was ready to cruise to an easy victory early in the second half.

Unfortunately, the tide turned quickly. At one point, UConn missed 10 of 12 shots and went more than five minutes without scoring. The Huskies' offensive strategy seemed off, and the team was vulnerable down low defensively with Shonn Miller, Kentan Facey and Steve Enoch in foul trouble. All three fouled out eventually.

Going to the rim is good

The Huskies have a 31.5 free throw rate*, one of the worst in the country at 280th. In spite of that, they managed to get to the line 25 times Saturday, making 20. Rodney Purvis, notorious for missing nearly 50 percent of his, hit four of his five shots from the line. Sterling Gibbs was 4-for-6. Daniel Hamilton made nine of his 10 attempts.

(*The formula for free throw rate is free throws attempted divided by field goals attempted. It is designed to measure a team's ability to get to the free throw line.)

And yet, UConn missed so many chances to get to the line, appearing incapable of penetrating the lane and getting to the rim. Guys just threw up shots and hoped for the best. See Daniel Hamilton's woeful floater over two players that resulted in a turnover. Sometimes they wouldn't even go up. They would jump into the lane and throw an errant pass back to the perimeter. It was senseless. Be aggressive and go up. Don't shy away from contact and play smart. Doing so will result in more attempts at free points and fewer dumb turnovers.

Oh, and please don't throw that nonsense on the refs. Did they make some puzzling calls and let some other stuff slide? Absolutely. But what game does that not happen in?

Overall, it was a weird game for UConn inside the arc. The Huskies have one of the best 2-point shooting percentages in the nation, but they shot 35.4 percent on 2-pointers against Tulane, dropping their season rate to 55.9 percent.

Need more from the bench.

Four players came in off the bench, playing a total of 63 minutes. They combined for six points – four for Omar Calhoun and two for Steve Enoch. Kevin Ollie needs more from his bench. That can't happen. Enoch did do well on the glass, grabbing six rebounds, but he was quiet, otherwise.

Jalen Adams and Phil Nolan had their moments, too. Nolan was a beast defensively in the final minute. Adams had a huge steal in the backcourt after UConn scored, and it led to a Hamilton three, but he missed three shots. He was in there for 20 minutes. He needs to give more than two steals, one rebound and one assist.

Sterling Gibbs unleashed his inner Shabazz Napier.

Sterling Gibbs, like all of his teammates, went kind of quiet in the midst of Tulane's run. Entering the final four minutes of the game, he was 2-for-10 from the field and had only taken two free throws, missing both.

Here is how the game finished after Tulane took the lead with 4:08 left.

Gibbs took control and made sure UConn won that game. Those 3-pointers were Napier-esque, especially the one where he threw it up from way beyond the line with four seconds on the shot clock. It worked out, and it all but sealed the game for UConn. Gibbs was one of the best 3-point shooters in the nation last year. He's been OK this season, shooting 36.9 percent. If he can raise that, he becomes a very dangerous player.

And what is this about being Daniel Hamilton being the only triple-double threat? Gibbs grabbed eight rebounds and had seven assists, leading the way as UConn regained control. Give me that Sterling Gibbs the rest of the year.

First half Rodney was special.

With just over three minutes left in the first half, a lone three-pointer was Rodney Purvis' only scoring contribution. Then he went on a tear.

By halftime, he had 15 points on 4 of 7 shooting, 3 of 5 from beyond the arc. He was 4-for-5 from the foul line.

It's not like anyone expects less of Purvis. He has scored in double figures every game this season, after all. But that display was magnificent, and it helped put some separation between UConn and Tulane entering the half.

Of course, he was quieter in the final 20 minutes. He played 19 of them, but only took four shots, making two of them. No rebounds. No assists.

Phil Nolan!

That defensive play, stealing the ball from Jernard Jarreau. Awesome. Then the blocked shot on Louis Dabney. Two minutes, that's all it took for people to fall in love with Phil Nolan, if only for a time. With Enoch, Kentan Facey and Shonn Miller all fouling out, he needed to step up. You couldn't ask for more from the fourth option down low.