BUFFALO, N.Y. — Turns out, Jim Calhoun left Connecticut in good hands.
With Calhoun watching from the stands, the Huskies continued their winning NCAA tournament tradition thanks to a hold-over player in senior guard Shabazz Napier and a new coach, Kevin Ollie.
Napier shook off several misses — including a 3-point attempt at the second-half buzzer — to score nine of his 24 points in overtime in UConn’s 89-81 win over Saint Joseph’s in the second round of the tournament on Thursday night. It came in Ollie’s tournament debut behind the bench, two years after health issues forced Calhoun to step down, and a year after the Huskies were barred from postseason play because of academic sanctions.
“It was a great win,” Ollie said. “Those players right there, that’s what kept this university alive. They could have transferred. They could have done everything. … They just stayed and they were resilient, and they played hard.”
Napier, a freshman on Calhoun’s 2011 national championship team, was among those who elected to stay and help usher in a new era.
“That’s why I came to the University of Connecticut to play in these tournaments, to give myself and my team a chance to hoist that trophy at the end of the day,” Napier said. “We’re here for one common goal.”
DeAndre Daniels scored 18 while freshman center Amida Brimah forced overtime by completing a three-point play in the final minute.
UConn (27-8), the East Region’s seventh seed, advances to play No. 2 seed Villanova on Saturday in a meeting of two former Big East rivals. Villanova advanced after a 73-53 win over Milwaukee.
Langston Galloway scored 25 points for Saint Joseph’s (24-10). The Hawks wore down because of a lack of depth, and then lost their top forward Halil Kanacevic, who fouled out early into overtime.
“I definitely didn’t want to go out like that,” Kanacevic said. “I feel bad, but I tried to stay in the game with the guys. There’s nothing you can do at that point.”
The foul occurred with 3:47 left in overtime, when Kanacevic attempted to stop Daniels from driving the lane. Daniels still managed to hit the shot from six feet, and then drained the free throw to put UConn ahead 73-70.
Napier then scored seven straight points — five of them coming from the line — to put the Huskies up 82-74 with 55 seconds remaining.
Kanacevic finished with 12 points and seven rebounds. Freshman DeAndre Bembry scored 16 points for a Hawks team that won the Atlantic 10 tournament title last weekend.
After hitting 13 of their first 20 baskets, the Hawks offense cooled. Saint Joe’s went 10 of 22 in the second half, and finished the game going 27 of 54.
The game turned in the final minute of regulation and after Hawks guard Chris Wilson hit two free throws to put Saint Joe’s up 70-67 with 49.2 seconds left.
Napier missed on a drive at the other end, but Brimah got the rebound to the left of the basket, and was fouled while putting it back. He tied the game by hitting the free throw.
The Hawks never got a shot off on what became their final possession of regulation.
Galloway twice lost the ball on the dribble, but got it back both times, before launching a desperation shot that hit off the side of the backboard as the shot clock expired.
“We were right there,” Galloway said. “I wanted to out with the ball in my hands. It’s a tough play. I hit the side of the backboard. I’m upset with myself for not getting a better quality shot.”
With 2.7 seconds left, the Huskies made two nifty passes to get the ball to Napier on the fly, who pulled up just before the 3-point line and had his shot hit off the rim.
“Just because I missed two shots, three shots doesn’t mean I’m not going to take the next one with a lot of confidence,” said Napier, who finished 7 of 22 from the field. “Today was a big dogfight, but we willed ourselves and just continued to push each other to get the win.”
The Huskies were coming off a 71-61 loss to Louisville in the American Athletic Conference title game on Saturday. They’ve now won 10 of their past three, with two of those losses coming against Louisville.
Connecticut athletic director Warde Manuel was pleased with the win and how his program persevered.
“It’s a lot for us, given what we went through last year, and for Kevin and the team to battle the way it did, Manuel said. “I’m very proud of the effort.”