Nov. 22, 2013
Napier scored a game-high 27 points as the 18th-ranked University of Connecticut men's basketball team posted a thrilling 59-58 win over Indiana to win the championship game of the 2K Sports Classic Benefiting Wounded Warrior Project. The game was played before a crowd of 10,051 at Madison Square Garden. The Huskies improve to 5-0 on the season while the Hoosiers are 5-1. "Of course I do," said Napier, a key reserve on the 2011 national championship team that Walker starred on. "That's my big brother. I try to emulate everything that he does."
While Walker, who now plays for the Charlotte Bobcats, had an 11-game run for the ages when he led the Huskies to the BIG EAST title and then the NCAA championship, Napier had a night that will be talked about for a while among the Connecticut faithful.
"The fans love him and he loves the fans," said Connecticut coach Kevin 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 three-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," Indiana coach Tom 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 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 .2 seconds and after the officials watched the replay, they restored it to .7 seconds.
Jeremy Hollowell inbounded the ball to Noah Vonleh, but his jumper was late and the Huskies 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 four of six from three-point range. He was the only double-figure scorer for the Huskies, but he struggled from the free throw line (three of seven) 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."
Napier was joined on the all-tournament team by CJ Wilcox of Washington, Ryan Anderson of Boston College, Ferrell and Will Sheehey of Indiana.
Ferrell, who was hounded all game by Napier, junior guard Ryan Boatright (Aurora, Ill.) and graduate student forward Lasan Kromah (Greenbelt, Md.), had 19 points on six-of-19 shooting, two of six 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).
"It came down to execution, to making stops," Ollie said. "We trust each other. We hang our hat on defense. We got stops and that's what we did. That's never going to change. Never." After Napier made it 59-58, Indiana's Devin Davis had the ball stolen from him by senior forward Tyler Olander (Mansfield, Conn.). Napier missed a three-point attempt but Connecticut again stole the ball, this time it was Kromah with 30 seconds to go. With everybody anticipating the Hoosiers fouling since the shot clock was off, they instead played defense and Ferrell drew a charge from Napier.
"That was a bonehead play. I should have passed it," Napier said.
The tournament win was Connecticut's ninth in Madison Square Garden, The others were the 1988 NIT and a record seven BIG EAST championships, including the one belonging to Walker.
UConn returns to action on Tuesday when it plays host to Loyola (Md.) at 7:00 p.m. at the XL Center in Hartford. The game will be televised by SNY and heard on the UConn IMG Sports Radio Network.