SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Connecticut was able to come together for a big win even in the midst of more off-the-court controversy.
The 17th-ranked Huskies had a big second half Saturday and beat Notre Dame 67-53, snapping the Fighting Irish’s 29-game home winning streak behind the 16 points of Shabazz Napier and the 10 points and 13 rebounds of freshman Andre Drummond
On Friday night, Connecticut decided freshman guard Ryan Boatright would be held out by the school while the NCAA investigates eligibility matters that predate his enrollment at the school.
“I called him out of the meal and I told him,” said Huskies coach Jim Calhoun, who missed the first three Big East games this season over an NCAA suspension. “He was in my arms and talking about the 300 people who were coming to the game to watch him play. But I will tell you that nothing is going to injure or hurt Ryan Boatright. I have nothing to say about it. I feel about it, but I have nothing to say.”
The team dedicated the game to Boatright, who is from nearby Aurora, Ill., according to teammates Roscoe Smith and Shabazz Napier.
Boatright, a speedy 6-foot guard who has averaged more than 10 points and three assists in 10 games, was suspended for the first six games of the season for an infraction that involved accepting a plane ticket last year while he was playing AAU basketball.
The school, in a statement, said the latest development “arises from additional information provided by the NCAA that pertains to conditions and events that predate the university’s relationship with Boatright.”
Calhoun emphasized that the Boatright controversy was beyond the control of his team and they would deal with it as a team.
“We were energized, tonight,” said Calhoun, who was suspended for failure to create an atmosphere of compliance within his program. “We had a pretty emotional talk. But it is about us. It is not about anyone but us and we can’t control the world but we can control what we do. Tonight we stayed with things and the biggest thing in life is just staying with things.”
Alex Oriakhi added 12 points for the Huskies (14-3, 4-2 Big East).
Eric Atkins scored 20 points for Notre Dame (11-7, 3-2), who led 25-24 at halftime as Atkins went 3 of 4 from beyond the arc.
Calhoun said his team talked about defending the 3-pointer better at halftime.
“We got over those and we made sure the third guy in line rotated,” he said. “We did a good job of not letting that man be free. So the third guy in line got in there. He just can’t come out late. We talked a little bit about that at halftime and our guys seemed to respond really well.”
The Huskies shot 56 percent in the second half, while the Irish closed the game by making 12 of 36 shots.
Connecticut used an 18-8 run over the first 10 minutes of the second half to take a 42-33 lead. The Irish scored five straight points, but UConn answered with a 12-2 run that made it 54-40 with 3:41 left.
The Huskies outrebounded Notre Dame 43-33 — including getting 14 offensive rebounds that were converted into 16 points — and made 15 free throws compared to five for the Irish.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said UConn’s defense was the key.
“It was hard for us to anything offensively against their defense,” he said. “First half, we had some open stuff — some layups, free throws right before half. Second half, we got looks but they were kind of hurried and they were hurried because of Connecticut’s length. Their size beat us up on the backboard at times. They were hard to keep off the board. We were trying. We kept fighting. Not today.”
Brey was philosophical about the end of the streak.
“It was a pretty good run,” he said. “Amazing when you think about it. I’m really proud of our overall body of work at home. So, you get a chance to start another streak.”
Atkins had 13 points in the first half when both teams shot below 40 percent. But Notre Dame made five 3-pointers while Connecticut didn’t make any shots from behind the arc.
Notre Dame led by five points with 3:26 to go in the first half. UConn went on a 6-0 run but Atkins scored to give the Irish the halftime lead although the Huskies missed three shots in a closing flurry.