Providence, R.I. – The final box score from Thursday's game between Connecticut and Providence should be considered worthless, unless there is a file folder somewhere that archives bizarre occurrences at the Dunkin' Donuts Center.
Teams are not supposed to win when outrebounded 55-24. Teams rarely win when outscored by 13 at the free throw line or when the opposition holds a 32-12 advantage in bench points. UConn (14-5, 4-3 Big East) was on the short end of all those statistics and still managed to defeat Providence 82-79 in overtime before a hostile crowd of 10,180.
Just another crazy night at The Dunk, right?
"Heart," point guard Ryan Boatright said when asked for an explanation. "We figured out a way to win, man. We stuck together when the intensity picked up."
Boatright called the final rebounding margin "terrible." UConn coach Kevin Ollie wasn't sure he had ever seen a state sheet quite like this one. Neither had assistant coach George Blaney.
"But I really love the fact we have more points than Providence," Ollie said. "It was just a gutty win. The second half we challenged them to play a little tougher. And that's what they did."
UConn built a 15-point lead in the first nine minutes of the game. Providence (10-11, 2-7) rallied within one at halftime and led by three in the second half. There were 10 lead changes and the score was tied 15 times.
But the play UConn will remember gave the Huskies a 79-76 lead with 41.7 seconds left in overtime. That's when Boatright dribbled through the lane and down to the baseline, drawing four defenders to him under the basket. With the Providence defense collapsed around him, Boatright (19 points, 7 assists) dished the ball to the right corner where freshman guard Omar Calhoun was wide open and waiting.
Calhoun (13 points) didn't rush. He took the three-pointer in rhythm and gave the Huskies the lead for good.
"It was big time," Ollie said. "He's never shied away from big shots, big stage. But the play was made by Ryan, driving the baseline, making a head-point-guard, basketball play. And to see Omar, a freshman, in the corner . . . for him to step up was real big-time for him and his confidence. But he's never lacking for confidence."
Guard Shabazz Napier (18 points) said the Huskies can always count on Calhoun to make a tough shot.
"That's the type of player he is," Napier said. "The way he shot and the way the ball was spinning, I knew it was going to go in."
Calhoun said it's his role to wait in the corner and relieve pressure.
"I knew I was going to knock that down," Calhoun said. "It was too big of a shot to miss. It's a part of my game, something I can do."
On that play, Boatright has the option to shoot and could have gone for a reverse layup. But it developed perfectly for Calhoun to hit the high-pressure shot.
"I knew once I went baseline that they figured either me or Shabazz would take the shot," Boatright said. "When I went up, I knew they were going to crash and I just kicked it out. [Calhoun] has enough confidence. He doesn't need any more. But he's got the ability to make that shot all the time."
Despite the disastrous rebounding margin and 55 fouls called in the game, UConn did just enough to get the win. The rebounding margin of 31 tied a Big East conference record set Feb. 26, 1997 by St. John's at Seton Hall.
Forward DeAndre Daniels scored 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds, but he was one of three UConn big men to foul out in the overtime period. Tyler Olander and Enosch Wolf fouled out before Daniels went ot eh bench with 24.8 seconds left.
"I didn't have any five men or four men left at the end of the game, but we had each other," Ollie said. "That's what it's all about. We found a way. I don't know how we did it but we found a way to dig deep and get a game that was all from the heart. I'm very proud of my team."
Providence was led by Kadeem Batts (20 points) and Bryce Cotton (18 points). Coach Ed Cooley shook up his starting lineup, sitting Vincent Council and LaDontae Henton in favor of Lee Goldsbrough and Ted Bancroft. Despite UConn's 15-point lead, Cooley waited to sub Council in until 10:47 was left in the first half. He called it a "coach's decision"
"I don't know what he did, but when he came in he definitely had an impact on the game," Ollie said of Council.
Henton and Council each finished with 15 points. But the Friars had their own foul troubles. Council and Kris Dunn (7 points) each fouled out in overtime.
Henton scored to cut the lead to 25-18 before the Huskies bounced back to take 10-point lead. But the final six minutes of the half belonged to Providence as the Friars outscored UConn 14-5. A jumper by Daniels with 1:21 left gave the Huskies a 33-30 margin and they held on to a 33-32 lead at halftime.
"You can't run if you're not getting rebounds," Ollie said. "That's simple."
Olander missed the shootaround earlier in the day with flu-like symptoms. He went through warmups and was in the starting lineup but left the game after picking up his first foul with 17:49 left in the first half.
The first nine minutes of the game couldn't have gone better for the Huskies. UConn hit 5 of its first 7 shots form the field, starting with a pull-up jumper by Napier to make it 2-0. Daniels hit a three and also scored on a run-out to make it 12-3. Boatright hit a spinner in the lane and also had an assist on a Napier basket.
Napier was 7-for-10 from the line. He missed one with 44.8 seconds left in regulation that might have given the Huskies the win. A short driving jumper by Boatright was blocked by Dunn with two seconds left in regulation and that forced the overtime.
Once the Huskies got to that point, they hit 7 of 8 free throw attempts and then let Calhoun have the big stage.
"That's the team I came down to Providence with," Ollie said. "That's the team I want to coach right there."