Recap: Connecticut vs. Saint Josephs
Buffalo, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - Shabazz Napier sat in the locker room after a first half he said went by too fast and knew he needed to pick his teammates up.
"At the end of the day," Napier said, "this may be my last game."
He made sure it wasn't.
Napier scored 19 of his 24 points after the first half -- including nine in overtime -- and Connecticut rallied to beat Saint Joseph's 89-81 on Thursday to stay alive in the NCAA Tournament.
Napier's teammates carried the load for 20 minutes until the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year turned it on.
The senior guard missed a 3-pointer at the regulation buzzer but scored seven in a row in overtime to give the Huskies (27-8) an eight-point lead with under a minute to go.
Atlantic 10 champion Saint Joe's -- with senior big man Halil Kanacevic fouled out -- was never closer than five after that.
The 10th-seeded Hawks led by 10 in the first half and were eyeing an upset of the seventh-seeded Huskies in the program's first NCAA Tournament game in six years.
In the end, Napier escaped a fate 60 percent of the Saint Joe's starting lineup couldn't.
The first NCAA Tournament game for seniors Kanacevic, Langston Galloway and Ronald Roberts Jr. was also their last.
When Galloway and Roberts checked out in the final seconds, Napier hugged them both.
"I didn't know them guys until today, but when you play basketball with that competitiveness, you earn a lot of respect," said Napier. "I'm passionate for the game, and I seen it in them guys' eyes. They're seniors, and this is it.
"I would have loved for them to do the same thing for me. When you work so hard for something and it goes down the drain, it saddens me. But I'm happy I'm on the other end. I just wanted to show them my respect and tell the guys that he did a tremendous job.
"Just sometimes you fight, and you don't win the battle."
DeAndre Daniels added 18 points and Ryan Boatright scored 17 for the Huskies, who advanced in the East Region and will face old Big East foe Villanova after the second-seeded Wildcats beat Milwaukee 73-53 later Thursday.
Galloway had 25 points to lead Saint Joe's (24-10) and DeAndre Bembry scored 16. Kanacevic ended with 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists but fouled out with 3:47 left in overtime.
"It will be a long night tonight, probably a long weekend. Then we'll get each of these guys on their path to life," said Saint Joe's coach Phil Martelli.
"If it's the hardest thing they face," Martelli added, "they've lived a blessed life."
UConn is back in the tournament after serving a one-year ban last year over academics. The Huskies, who fell to Louisville in the AAC final on Sunday, played their first tournament game since 1979 without Jim Calhoun as coach.
Calhoun, who led UConn to three national titles between 1999 and 2011, stepped aside because of health problems prior to last season, allowing Kevin Ollie to take over.
"At the end of the day, we wanted to outwork our opponent," Ollie said. "It took a little longer than I thought, but fortunately, we got it done at the end."
The Hawks beat VCU on Sunday to win their first A-10 title since 1997 and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008, when they lost in the first round to Blake Griffin and Oklahoma.
It was the program's second appearance in the NCAAs since the 2003-04 season, when the Hawks went 27-0 in the regular season, reached No. 1 in the AP poll and fell to Oklahoma State in the Elite Eight.
A Hawks win could have set up a game against Big 5 rival Villanova. The schools, separated by seven miles down U.S. Route 30, play an annual game known as the Holy War. Villanova won this season's matchup by a record 30 points.
The upset bid fell apart in the second half.
The Huskies cut a seven-point deficit to one after consecutive 3-pointers by Niels Giffey and Napier and took their first lead since 16-15 on Napier's three-point play to make it 57-55 with 8 1/2 minutes left in regulation.
Kanacevic scored six in a row to give the Hawks a five-point lead but UConn later moved ahead again on a Daniels 3-pointer with 2:09 on the clock.
Then, the frantic final minutes.
Chris Wilson, the quietest Saint Joe's starter until that point, hit a floater and two free throws after Napier dribbled out of bounds for a 70-67 Hawks lead with 49.2 seconds remaining in regulation.
UConn tied it on Amida Brimah's three-point play with 39 ticks left. Galloway then missed an off-balance shot off the backboard, giving UConn the ball back with 2.7 seconds showing.
"I'm definitely upset with myself for not getting a better quality shot," said Galloway, "because I know if I had gotten a better quality shot, I probably would have made it."
The inbounds went to midcourt, then to Napier, whose running 3-point try missed at the buzzer.
Giffey added 10 points for UConn while Roberts scored 15 for the Hawks and Wilson ended with 13 points after a slow start, including five in overtime. Galloway opened overtime with a 3-pointer and scored six in the extra frame.
Saint Joe's shot 56 percent in the first half and led by as many as 10 points after Galloway -- changing his mind in mid-air behind the 3-point line -- found Bembry underneath for a layup to make it 37-27 with 3:16 to play.
UConn trimmed it to 40-35 at halftime on Boatright's 3-pointer from the left corner in the final seconds.Game Notes
UConn leads the all-time series 5-2. The teams hadn't played since Dec. 29,
1989, an 83-58 Huskies win. The last Saint Joe's win over UConn came in the
first round of the 1965 NCAA Tournament (67-61).