It wasn’t pretty, but we won. Most importantly, we won how we need to win big games- clutch free throws, production from role players and the emergence of the X-Factor at just the right time. It would have been easy to throw in the towel after Florida’s last run with 12 minutes remaining. The Huskies, coming off a disappointing home loss to Temple, could not seem to buy a basket or get a call. The turning point in the game belongs to Ryan Boatright on a play straight out of the Book of Kemba. Down 52-41 with 10:30 remaining, Boatright missed short on a deep three. However, instead of admiring his shot, he crashed with a vengeance and came up with his own miss, finding Calhoun for a triple that sparked an 11-4 run. That is exactly the type of inspiring effort that can change the course of a game, as it did this afternoon.
This is the most important takeaway from today’s game. We simply will not win big games without knocking down clutch free throws. There is no way around it. Our last three losses- Temple, Duke and Yale- saw FT%’s of 42%, 54%, and 67% respectively. Today, we shot a 2014-esque 85% including a perfect 6-6 in the final minute. I’m not going to lie, when Boatright stepped to the line up 61-59 with 4 seconds remaining, visions of Texas and Yale danced in my head. This time though, he made them count in a difficult environment on the road. We need this trend to continue if we want to win big games…
…which looking at the schedule is basically just Cincinnati (Woo AAC!).
The puzzle is finally starting to piece itself together. Boatright, the clear leader, did a little bit of everything with 14 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists- numbers at this point we can expect to be a given. What has not been a given, is where we get the remaining production. Tonight, it came from two unexpected sources – Omar Calhoun (12 points) and Terrence Samuel (10 points)- while Daniel Hamilton struggled to find his shot. Also, Amida Brimah contributed 10 rebounds and 2 blocks, showing the length and mobility on the defensive end that has scouts drooling. As I said last year time and time again, it doesn’t matter who we get it from as long as we get it.
Rodney Purvis. Yes, he had a few big games against mediocre teams but today was his true coming out party. With just 2 points in the first half, Purvis caught fire in the second knocking down both the three to give us our first lead as well as the three to put us up for good. Purvis needs to be our #2. It can’t be Daniel Hamilton- it needs to be Purvis. Hamilton is talented but he is young and has been plagued by costly late game turnovers. Purvis needs to step up as the reliable number two option like Deandre was to Shabazz and J-Lamb/A.O. were to Kemba. The reduced late game pressure will serve both Hamilton and fans well.
Again, it wasn’t pretty and we have much to work on. There were still plenty of late game defensive lapses and communication issues that left me scratching my head. However, we won the way we will need to win big games and that is a HUGE step in the right direction.
The season is still young. We play in a weak conference and host the conference tournament aka the automatic bid will always be a possibility regardless of record. It doesn’t matter how we played in December, how we play in January or how we will play in February, all that matters is how we play in March.