The Hoyas returned to the Verizon Center Wednesday night badly needing a bounce-back after falling to Big East cellar-dwellers Pittsburgh last week. However, the Hoyas’ task was never going to be easy as they welcomed defending national champions Connecticut, a squad desperate for a rebound performance of their own, having dropped from the top 25 for the first time this season after a difficult stretch of games. Yet, it was the Hoyas who looked the hungrier team on the night, hounding UConn on defense to eventually come away with a convincing 58-44 victory.
Hollis and Henry leading the way
While the Huskies started off hot, opening up a 9-3 lead in the first three minutes, the Hoyas surged to a ten-point lead at halftime thanks to the sweet shooting of Hollis Thompson. He kept his scoring touch in the second half, finishing with a team-high 18 points and 9 rebounds. Thompson and center Henry Sims, who finished with 13 points, including a thunderous dunk over UConn star Jeremy Lamb, willed the team to victory in the second half, coming up with timely buckets to keep the lead close to double-figures throughout. Sims’ presence on the inside was invaluable, providing the Hoyas with a vital interior presence to combat the imposing figure of the Huskies’ stud freshman center Andre Drummond.
Dealing with Drummond
Drummond had a massive game for the Huskies, altering shots, collecting monstrous rebounds and finishing around the rim, something the rest of his team failed to do consistently. He was the main catalyst for the Huskies early run in the first half, with 8 points on 4-4 shooting in the first four minutes. Finishing tied for a game-high 18 points while shooting 9-12 from the field, Drummond was the only Husky to make at least half of his shots on a night his teammates will be eager to forget. Henry Sims stepped up to mitigate Drummond’s impact in the second half and while the future NBA lottery pick still influenced the game, he was unable to pull his team back from the double-digit halftime deficit.
Huskies on ice
Fortunately for the Hoyas, Drummond’s teammates failed to mirror his impressive performance, shooting just 30 percent from the field throughout. Star sophomore guard tandem Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier combined for an atrocious 4-27 from the field, including 2-13 from downtown, killing any momentum for a Huskies’ comeback. The final ten minutes of the first half was a shambles as the pair continually settled for long jumpers and their shooting didn’t improve in the second half, even if their shot-selection did. Lamb finished with 14 points, but took 18 shots plus free throws to get there, a stunning stat line for a player who is shooting over 50 percent from the field this year. Meanwhile, Napier had an even more dismal night. He snuck in a free throw in the closing minutes for his only point of the night, despite averaging 14.3 ppg on the season. Without their key perimeter scoring threats, Drummond’s shadow-casting presence inside mattered little as the Hoyas pulled away.
The road ahead
The Hoyas will host South Florida on Saturday before road-tripping to upstate New York for potentially their final annual showdown with Syracuse. With USF sitting at an impressive 6-3 in Big East play, the Hoyas will have to be careful not to overlook their unheralded opponent with the Orange firmly implanted in the back of their mind. Tip-off will be at 11 a.m. on Saturday in the Verizon Center.