And when Shabazz Napier made a steal and sent it up ahead to Ryan Boatright for a dunk, the Huskies led Maryland by 17 points.
Then it broke down and fouls started coming in clusters. “They started playing around in our yard,” Ollie said, ” and suddenly No. 18 UConn was in that old, familiar place — fighting for a win.
With Napier fouled out, the Huskies held off Maryland’s last-ditch chances and won 78-77 in what became a heck of a game to open the men’s basketball season.
“We showed our will to win,” Boatright said. “It wasn’t an easy win, but we got it.”
So the Huskies begin this season the way they began the last one, with a hard-fought win over a power-conference opponent and more than a few surprises. Maryland, with basically the same cast, was fifth in the NCAA in rebounding last season, and UConn was 290th, but the Huskies finished the game with a 36-33 edge on the boards.
Ollie used 10 players, and all of them scored. The last player off the bench for UConn was senior Tyler Olander, who started nearly all last season, and he hit the biggest basket of the game — a three-pointer with 1:59 left that represented the final points for his team.
“That took [guts] to take that shot,” Napier said.
Napier had 16 points, seven rebounds and seven assists before fouling out with 1:30 left. Foul trouble, some of it the offshoot of the new hand-checking rules and some of it due to a technical, broke his firm mastery of the game down the stretch.
“I was sitting there saying, ‘Why did I foul out?’” Napier said. “But I had confidence in my teammates, I had confidence in Boat, and I had confidence in [freshman] Terrence [Samuel]. I told him, ‘You should want to be in this situation, this is what you came to UConn for, and he embraced it.’”
UConn never trailed, but after Napier fouled out, Maryland had three chances to tie or take the lead. Rather than go for the three, the Terps’ best player, Dez Wells, took a two-point jumper to make it 78-77 with 40 seconds left.
Boatright drew a foul with 25 seconds left, and as the mostly Maryland crowd — it was a home game for the Terrapins, who have a multiyear agreement with the Barclays Center — got very loud.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve heard it that loud,” Boatright said. “But it didn’t bother me, I just missed it.”
Maryland misfired again and sent Samuel to the line with 11 seconds left. He, too, missed the front end of a one-and-one and the Terps had the ball with 6.1 seconds to go. Wells rushed a fall-away jumper, missed, and Amida Brimah pulled down the game-icing rebound with two-tenths of a second to go.
“This would obviously have been a great win because I think Connecticut is going to win a lot of games,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “We played at a very high level, and if Dez’s shot goes in, everybody is talking about how good we are. It didn’t, so everyone is worried if we will have signature wins. We will have chances, and we will get a lot of them.”
Niels Giffey came off the bench early for UConn and had 13 points in first half, hitting 5 of 6 from the floor and all three of his three-point goals. He barely played in the second half, as Omar Calhoundeveloped the hot hand and scored 10. Boatright scored nine and Daniels eight, as the Huskies shot 51.7 percent from the floor, including 10 for 23 on three-pointers. UConn had 16 assists on 30 baskets, six blocks and 10 steals.
“If we take care of the ball and get good shots, we have a lot of weapons and can do a lot of things,” Ollie said. “And we showed America the other side, what can happen if we put a good Maryland team at the foul line. We fouled altogether too much.”
UConn led 5-0 and 15-5, and Giffey’s three gave the Huskies a 48-36 lead to take into the half.
“I felt like, whatever they tried seemed to work,” Turgeon said.
Nick Faust led five Maryland scorers in double figures with 17 points. Wells scored 13.
It was more of the same in the second half, as the Huskies extended it to 67-50 with 11:52 remaining. But the big men, Brimah and Phil Nolan, got into foul trouble. Olander came in for the first time with 14:44 left and got a couple of rebounds. He came back in with 5:36 to go.
“I never really cared about starting or minutes,” said Olander, who was twice suspended from the team due to legal troubles during the offseason. “This team is all about winning.”
Olander, 6-foot-9, was recruited for his perimeter game at E.O. Smith, but UConn’s lack of big men forced them to have him in the paint most of last season. Back in a comfortable role, he stepped out and hit only the second three of his career.
“All our guys stayed together,” Ollie said. “Shabazz gets in foul trouble, he fouls out, Boatright comes in and runs the team. Terrence comes in and makes a huge layup. Tyler doesn’t even play the first half and he comes out and hits a big-time three. That’s what a team is all about. … Some things you can’t go over the top, or go under, but you have to go through them, and we went through this tonight. We didn’t do the things we need to do to be a championship team, but I do like the end.”
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