Ostrout: Ugly halftime leads to beautiful finish by UConn

Published on Friday, 21 January 2022 11:39

Journal Inquirer

Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis has seen more than its share of inspirational speeches by the basketball coaches who have guided teams in the historic venue.

But don’t put Dan Hurley’s halftime plea late Thursday night to his UConn men’s basketball team up there with Gene Hackman’s (Norman Dale’s) effort - or that of any other non-fiction coach’s words.

With his team trailing Butler - a team it had handled rather easily two days earlier - by four points at halftime, Hurley did not do his best “Hoosier” impression in the locker room.

“It was ugly in there,” Hurley the coach admitted.

The No. 25 Huskies were playing bad and their let them know it. Well, he eventually let them know it.

“I didn’t go in right away and go after them, because it probably would have been a little bit too much. I went into my little locker and stewed for a little bit,” Hurley said.

Whatever Hurley cooked up while he stewed, it worked. The Huskies stormed out of the locker room, and ran away with a 75-56 win to sweep the home-and-home series with the Bulldogs.

Hinkle, the Bulldogs’ home court since 1928, longtime host of the Indiana boys basketball tournament, and the setting for the dramatic finish to the outstanding 1986 basketball film starring Hackman, probably saw a coat of paint chip off the walls in the visitor’s locker room Thursday.

“There was a lot of challenging in there. You can’t show up like that, play a first half like that if you aspire to compete for a championship in this conference,” Hurley said.

UConn (13-4, 4-2 Big East) apparently got the message.

The Huskies shot a blistering 66.7 percent from the field in the second half, and outscored Butler 51-28 in the period.

No one was more motivated, it seems, than UConn wing Tyrese Martin.

The 6-foot-6 senior was atrocious, like many of his teammates were, in the first half. And he had just three points on 1-for-7 shooting in the first meeting against the Bulldogs two days earlier.

But Martin came alive in the second half, scoring 25 of his career-high 27 points to propel UConn to victory.

“Tyrese’s performance in the second half was fantastic,” Hurley said. “We’ve been waiting for him to break out since the Providence game.”

Martin scored an impressive 25 points in UConn’s win at Marquette Dec. 21. In the three games since then, prior to Thursday’s affair, he scored a total of 27.

But the Allentown, Pennsylvania native had it in high gear again against the Bulldogs.

“He wanted the ball. He was very decisive. He looked like a confident guy that was willing to go down firing tonight. He wasn’t going to be passive,” Hurley said.

Butler, which had played reasonably well in Hartford earlier this week in the first game, was still with the Huskies at 38 with 12 minutes to play Thursday.

But a few key offensive rebounds by the Huskies, a few key turnovers by the Bulldogs, and a slew of Martin daggers did the hosts in.

Butler coach LaVall Jordan was particularly upset with his team’s rebounding efforts. He wasn’t overly critical of his team’s defense on Martin.

For the latter, sometimes there’s nothing you can do.

“We can control our discipline when shots go up,” Jordan said. “I don’t know if we can control every shot that Tyrese Martin hit. Obviously it got kicked to him and he got really hot. The one at the (end of the) shot clock was a heck of shot by a guy that got it rolling. But there was a lot of controllables in there.”

Hurley didn’t particularly enjoy screaming himself hoarse at the half, but the coach wasn’t altogether surprised that’s what it took to dispatch Butler.

Much like Hickory (Milan) High School went through, there are no easy game anymore.

“It’s a conference game. It’s a conference road game. Anyone that thinks these are gimmes, look around. Look around college basketball,” Hurley said. “I would have been thrilled to get out of here winning at the buzzer. It’s hard to win in this league. It’s hard to play a team twice in three days.”

Posted in The Bristol Press, UConn on Friday, 21 January 2022 11:39. Updated: Friday, 21 January 2022 11:41.