NEW YORK – Indiana’s young roster got quite a lesson from an experienced Connecticut team on Friday night.
The Hoosiers battled through foul trouble, tough defense, missed shots and a great game by Huskies senior guard Shabazz Napier but came up short in the championship game of the 2K Sports Classic Benefiting Wounded Warrior Project.
We feel like we played one of best teams in the country tonight, Indiana coach Tom Crean said after the 59-58 loss, the Hoosiers’ first of the season. There were a couple of times we could have let the game get away but they never did. When it comes to maturity and growing up we did over the last two days. ... We had some freshman moments. We’re a team on the climb and as long as we stay humble and hungry we can improve.
Freshmen Troy Williams and Noah Vonleh were the keys to the 102-84 semifinal win over Washington. Against the 18th-ranked Huskies, they combined for two points on 1-of-5 shooting and eight rebounds in a total of 34 minutes.
They’re freshmen, Crean said. Give them both credit. They were always ready to go back in. They responded.
Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie was really impressed with Vonleh, a 6-foot-10 presence in the middle.
I don’t know why his name isn’t mentioned with those other freshmen, he said, referring to Andrew Wiggins of Kansas, Jabari Parker of Duke and Julius Randle of Kentucky. He belongs there.
Napier scored 27 points and dominated the Huskies’ victory.
The fans love him and he loves the fans, said Ollie, a former standout guard for the Huskies himself. He gave the folks from Storrs a good trip back home.
Napier’s driving basket with 1:34 left to play turned out to be the final points of the game.
Indiana turned the ball over twice and Yogi Ferrell missed a jumper in that span. Napier missed a 3-pointer and was called for an offensive foul in the hectic finish that had the crowd at Madison Square Garden standing for the final 90 seconds.
He is an incredible high-level guard, Crean said of the 6-foot-1 Napier. That is a 12-, 13-year pro. I don’t care about size. He creates tremendous separation.
Indiana (5-1) had the last scoring chance. Ferrell missed a jumper with 10 seconds and the rebound rolled out of bounds in front of the Indiana bench off a Connecticut player. The clock showed 0.2 second, and after the officials watched the replay, they restored it to 0.7 second.
Jeremy Hollowell inbounded the ball to Vonleh, but his jumper was late, and the Huskies (6-0) had the win.
We were looking to spread the court, play basketball. Don’t let them lock in and it just didn’t go, Crean said of Ferrell’s jumper.
On the final play he said they were looking for a lob or catch and shoot.
We didn’t get a great look. They challenged it, Crean said. You have to be dead on there.
Napier, the tournament MVP, was 10 of 14 from the field, including 4 of 6 from 3-point range. He was the only double-figure scorer for the Huskies, but he struggled from the free throw line (3 of 7) and had seven turnovers.
Still, every big play down the stretch was his.
Sometimes my teammates let me know, he said of taking over a game. Not verbally but how they sometimes carry themselves. I know I have to try and score and be more aggressive. ... I just go off the flow.
Ferrell, who was hounded all game by Napier, Ryan Boatright and Lasan Kromah, had 19 points on 6-of-19 shooting, 2 of 6 from beyond the arc, and he committed five of Indiana’s 19 turnovers.
They have more experience, Ferrell said, referring to Indiana’s young roster. Napier’s a big shot-maker for them. We knew that coming in.
The defense was intense on both ends. Indiana shot 40.8 percent (20 of 49), while the Huskies shot 39.6 percent (21 of 53).