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Gordon Sparks Second-Half Run to Overcome Virginia Tech, 83-65

(Hartford, CT) January 14, 2003—Sophomore Ben Gordon (Mt. Vernon, NY) scored 24 points and the sixth-ranked Connecticut Huskies used a 26-4 run midway through the second half to overcome pesky Virginia Tech, 83-65, Tuesday, before a sellout crowd of 16,294 at the Hartford Civic Center.

The win improves the UConn record to 11-1, 2-0 in the league.  The Hokies slip to 6-8, 0-2 in the loop.

Virginia Tech led 43-39 at the half and maintained the four point advantage at 53-49 with 13:29 to play before freshman Rashad Anderson (Lakeland, FL) hit three free throws among seven straight points by Anderson to instigate the key run that left UConn ahead 75-57 exactly 10 minutes later.  Sophomore center Emeka Okafor (Houston, TX) scored eight points in the decisive spurt.

Gordon was solid throughout the contest, hitting on nine of 13 field goals, including three of five from beyond the arc, and also dished out five assists.  Okafor overcame a sluggish beginning to score 19 and yank down 12 rebounds, his 10th double-double effort of the season.  Freshman Hilton Armstrong (Peekskill, NY), making his first career start, set career-highs with 12 points and seven rebounds.  Anderson finished with 10.  Starting point guard Taliek Brown (Queens, NY) had eight points, six assists and just one turnover.

Bryant Matthews and Terry Taylor each scored 16 points to lead Virginia Tech.

The Huskies stumbled out of the gate for the third consecutive game, falling behind 20-10 just 7:28 into the contest, but regrouped to retake the lead at 24-23 on a jumper by senior Tony Robertson (E. Providence, RI), but Virginia Tech rallied to take a 43-39 lead at intermission.

The Huskies finished the game shooting a crisp 54% (35 of 65), and pounded the ball inside in the second half, scoring 30 points in the paint after halftime.

The Huskies return to action on Saturday, January 18 when they visit North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC.  Game time is set for 5:00 p.m. and the game will be televised nationally by ESPN.

Player and Coaches Quotes

Tony Robertson

What was the difference in the 2nd half?

We played defense in the second half. We took away what they wanted to do.  And we were able to get out on the break and assisted well on most of our baskets…We played defense in the second half which we weren’t really doing in the first half.  We let them shoot 50%.  You’re going to be in a dogfight whenever you let any team shoot 50%.  So, we cut down on their percentage

On Taylor

It’s kind of hard to out-power a guy who has a lot of power like he does.  But the big guys did a good job of helping each other out.

On the fact that Va Tech  knew the press was coming in the 2nd half

Knowing something is going to happen and beating it are two different things.  We were able totake advantage of situations on the press.  We were able to get good traps and a couple of steals off their passes and that was also so a turning point in the second half.

What took the team so long to get going?

I don’t know.  I wish I had an answer.  We can’t come out like that.  We have to put two halves together of good basketball.  We beat them on just 20 good minutes.  We have to put 40 good minutes together like that and we shouldn’t have any problems with any team.

Concerned about being down 10 three straight games?

It definitely is a concern because one time we might not be able to come back.  We don’t want to dig ourselves a hole because it’s not always guaranteed you’re going to come back…We have to come out aggressive every time.  We have to act like we’re down 20 when we’re up 10.

The way we come out in the second half of games sometimes is with the mindset that we’re going to play defense, we’re going to stop them every time.  And we do.  I don’t think we come out with that same mindset early in the game.  I think we kind of wait until something happens and then we really start playing.

On Hilton’s play

Hilton played really well tonight, and he’s just getting started.   He’s going to get better and better every game, as our whole team is.  Hilton’s definitely making a lot of progress.

What did coach say at halftime?

He said enough to get us motivated and pumped up to play the second half the way we did.

Ben Gordon

Once we put the press on them, they had a hard time getting over half court and getting into their offense. 

Did the defense lead to the difference in shooting percentage in the 2nd half?

We got a lot of easy baskets off our defense.  I think us wearing them down when the were on offense kind of helped us when we were on offense.

At what point in the 2nd half did you think you had them on the ropes?

As soon as we tied it up…Everything just flowed after we got our defense set up.

How has coach addressed that the team has had to come back so much?

The main thing coach has talked about is playing an entire game well.  I think that’s been our problem for the entire season.  We haven’t played a full 40 minutes.  We’re always behind and have to play catch-up.

On Hilton Armstrong’s play

Hilton was great tonight.

Is the press becoming more of weapon?

It’s worked a lot this year and we can definitely rely on it in key situations.  Our press is great -- we have a lot of fast guys and once everyone is willing to work hard, it’s pretty hard to beat it.

Hilton Armstrong

On if he was nervous starting

I was a little bit when I was sitting down and they first called my name out.  When I got out on the court I felt more comfortable.

On if starting gave him confidence 

It made me feel like coach could trust me, so I wanted to make him trust me.  So I tried to do my best.

On feedback from Coach

He told me I did a good job. 

On going against Taylor

He is big and real strong, so I just had to try my best.

We knew we were down 4 at halftime in our house and we didn’t like that.  We tried to change the tempo of the game, tried changing the pressure and came out hard.

On turnaround

We knew that we had to come out after halftime and play hard defense.  We just had to play even harder than we were playing. 

On looking for open man

I’m just looking for the open man, not just Emeka…but if he is open he is right by the rim, and I think that is the easiest shot.

Emeka Okafor

We just played that ‘in your face D’ Coach gave us a little pep talk and told us to get with it and stop being lazy.  We were down in our own gym at halftime, we just had to get up and get with it.

On why such a slow start for the team

I don’t know why, but we need to stop it.  It is going to come and get us one day…already got us at Oklahoma.  We can’t afford to keep having slow starts and waiting until the last minute to come back…we have to start jumping on teams early, coming with energy and play the first half like we play the second half.  We just need to get out of that habit.  It is a little frustrating, but I know they will pull us together and get us through.

On foul trouble last game affecting how he played this game

I guess I came out a little conservative in the first half because of what happened last time.  I didn’t like spending that much time on the bench.  I think that even hurt my team.  I have to go back to the drawing board and find out what exactly I’m going to do with myself.  I just can’t come out slow and try to save myself.  I might run into the situation where it is too little too late. But the important thing is that the team came together and pulled it out in the end. 

On groin injury

It hinders me a little bit now and then.  But it is just something I have to deal with. My team needs me and I’m going to be on the court as long as they do. 

UConn Head Coach Jim Calhoun

The first thing I want to do is congratulate Ricky Stokes.  We started in 1986 and it took us 2, 3, 4 years to get going.  They’re a good basketball team….We had that same step about year three when we tried to make the NCAA Tournament after winning the NIT.  It’s a tough one – that’s winning.  Learning how to win games in which you have a chance to win.  Now, our explosion came early so it kind of took it out of that.  Nevertheless, I think he’s done a really good job.  That’s a good basketball team….In the first half they put up 43 and, quite frankly, did a terrific job of getting our press.

We made a couple of adjustments at halftime.  It was probably the stormiest halftime we’ve had in the sense that I just couldn’t believe that we had given up 43 points to a team that averages 62 points a game.  There was no need for that.  That’s a compliment to Ricky.  They knew exactly what we were going to play, they came out and defended us well and I thought they ran their stuff exceptionally well.

In the second half, I thought we really played great.  I really did.  I don’t care who we are playing, if we play like that for 40 minutes we’re going to be a tough out.  We defended, we held them to 19 points until that banker went in at the end, we shot 69 percent because we turned up really easy shots, we executed our offense, got the ball to Emeka, fast broke, and I thought we did a terrific job. 

We won the game because we kept good solid pressure and then started to retreat better…

Once we get our fast break ignited it seems to do an awfully lot for our whole psyche.  It really changes the way we approach the game. 

On Hilton Armstrong

I thought that Hilton did a terrific job….He gave us a passer, he gave a shot-blocker, he gave us some legitimate size.  The play he makes on the fast break, most 6-10 kids can’t make.  I just hope and believe he’s only going to get better.

On Ben Gordon

Ben can transport himself from spots on the court about as well as any kid I’ve ever had.

On Terry Taylor

Taylor’s tough to stop – Emeka’s not playing quite like himself, but regardless, he’s tough.

Virginia Tech Head Coach Ricky Stokes

We wanted to come out tonight and be very aggressive.  I thought the first half we probably played as good as we have all season.  We wanted to go inside and go at Okafor.  I thought Terry Taylor was pretty effective inside, but he wasn’t able to get to the line.  In the first half I thought we played well, played with some composure.  IN the second half we knew, from the UMass tape, that they were going to come out and play very aggressive.  Against their press I thought we were a little bit more tentative than in the first half.  We didn’t attack as much.

Give UConn a lot of credit.  They pressured more and it was more effective.  We also got into foul trouble and I think that hurt us.  We had a key stretch in the last 10 minutes and I think possible fatigue…naturally a team that presses the entire game…maybe wore the team down.

We have to continue to force through and get better.  I think we have learned a lot from our first 2 road games in the BIG EAST, and we are looking forward to going home for our next 3 BIG EAST games.

On knowing pressure was coming:  Yeah, absolutely right.  No question, we knew it was coming and we didn’t attack it as well as we would have liked.  We were almost tentative in exploring the trap and hurting them and making them play against the trap.  We were able to execute getting the ball into the appropriate people, especially Terry Taylor, but he was not able to get to the line.  It is awfully nice to break a run up by getting to the line, and getting your defenses set.

On Ben Gordon

He knew we had to make it a tough  night for him but he came in very steady and continued to make the big shots.

On Okafor 

I thought he got the ball in position, we were not able to get him away and I think he had some big baskets down low. 

On Armstrong 

We knew he was very rangey and long, and he probably scored more than we would have wanted.  But I thought he was effective.  One of my assistants said that in warm-ups he had a nice shot.