UConn outlasts RU?with timely spurts
HARTFORD, Conn. — After 40 minutes in which each Connecticut defender struggled to contain him, the man that stopped Jerome Seagears in his tracks yesterday had barely stepped on the XL Center hardwood.
Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie watched as Seagears, a sophomore guard for the Rutgers men’s basketball team, scored a game- and career-high 21 points on 8-for-15 shooting.
“He just said, ‘Good game, way to shoot it out there,’” Seagears said.
But Ollie’s praise came at a cost.
Despite arguably Seagears’ best game of the season, the Scarlet Knights lost, 66-54, as Seagears was not even the top player on the court.
The distinction belongs to Huskies guard Shabazz Napier, who nailed two 3-pointers in a row, as Connecticut (13-5, 3-3) scored on four consecutive possessions late in the second half. Seagears had his day, but no one impacted the game like Napier, who dealt with a lingering left shoulder contusion.
Napier appeared in complete control in his game-high 36 minutes. The junior, arguably the best point guard in the Big East, showed exactly why the conference places such a premium on experienced ball handlers.
“The game is slow to him,” said head coach Mike Rice of Napier, who finished with 19 points and six assists. “When he wants to go fast, he goes fast. When he wants to get his shot, he gets his shot.”
The Knights (12-7, 3-5) took an early second-half lead thanks to a 10-1 run, but Napier and sophomore guard Ryan Boatright led Connecticut on a decisive late-game run. Rutgers had stifled Connecticut, the highest-scoring team in Big East play, for more than 30 minutes.
But guards on arguably the most guard-dependent team in the conference suddenly had their way.
“Take your pick,” Rice said, rattling off a bevy of the Big East’s top two-guard lineups. “It’s what you face when you’re in especially the best guard conference in the country. It’s not close — the guards in this conference are unbelievable.”
The Knights, meanwhile, managed only 20 first-half points. They are averaging slightly more than 25 points per first half in Big East play and led at halftime only once — Jan. 5 against Pittsburgh.
A missed transition layup by sophomore guard Eli Carter — turned into a Connecticut alley oop — highlighted Rutgers’ offensive concerns, most of which have been present for a while.
“We thought we could definitely climb back into it,” said senior forward Austin Johnson. “It’s a little frustrating that we feel like we beat ourselves. We have to control the things we can do to be successful on the court, and we didn’t do that.”
Senior wing Dane Miller’s absence did not help.
The Knights’ best facilitator picked up his fourth foul less than two minutes into the second half. He landed his second foul at the 17:22 mark of the first half, and Rice said he compensated by playing guards like Seagears — with a team-high 34 minutes — for two long.
Miller played only 16 minutes, with just five in the first half.
“That could’ve affected some of the ways we defended those guards in the end,” Rice said.
While Miller is outwardly passive — he would prefer to set up teammates for open looks — he has not scored in double figures since Jan. 9 at St. John’s. He has attempted more than eight shots only twice in the Big East.
Miller is part of a supporting cast that has yet to materialize behind Carter and sophomore point guard Myles Mack, the Knight’ leading scorers.
Seagears did his part, as Ollie made sure to congratulate Seagears — who had yet to score in double figures this season — but it was hollow praise for another hollow loss.
“[There is] a little bit of a snowball effect,” Rice said. “You just have to get yourself out of this rut, and right now we’re in it.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow Tyler Barto on Twitter @TBartoTargum.