The UConn men's basketball team has been through a lot of adversity since it last won an NCAA tournament game. With Shabazz Napier struggling, and St. Joseph's poised for the Round of 64 and the end of the season, UConn Player of the Year candidate turned to other players.
Amida Brimah's three-point play with 39 seconds left helped force overtime, and in the extra frame Napier showed.
UConn's last NCAA win was the national title game in 2011. Three years later they have another.
UConn (27-8) withstood everything St. Joseph's could throw at them and then Napier led the Huskies home.
Napier scored 24 points, all but five after halftime, and UConn advanced to the Round of 32 with an 89-81 overtime win over St. Joseph's.
"In back of mind, this could be my last game and I did not want to end on that note," Napier said. "I didn't play great, I was lucky to make shots.
"They had us on our heels and we had to fight back. We got to be ready for dog fights for the rest of the tournament."
The Huskies trailed 70-67 with 50 seconds left when Napier drove to the lane and missed a floater. Brimah, playing with four fouls, grabbed the offensive rebound and made a sweeping jump hook while he was fouled. The 7-foot freshman calmly swished the tying free throw.
The Huskies' defense forced a shot clock violation and nearly won the game in regulation as Napier got off a clean look on a running 3-pointer as time expired.
In the overtime, the Huskies made a big play early when DeAndre Daniels started off with a three-point play, fouling out Halil Kanacevic of St. Joe's, who had xx points, xx rebounds and gave UConn fits with his passing from the pivot. The Hawks don't use the bench much, and the difference with him out was noticeable.
St. Joe's tied the game at 73-73 Langston Galloway 3-pointer before Napier took off. Brimah hit two free throws to give UConn the lead for good and Napier too over.
Napier scored five straight points, two free throws, a pretty scoop layup-and-1 for an 80-73 lead. UConn hit 15 straight free throws before missing one late, and Napier scored nine points in the overtime.
Napier had eight rebounds and six assists to go with 24 points and Daniels had a big game with 18 points. Boatright had 17 and Niels Giffey 10.
Even inside, Phil Nolan had seven points while Brimah added nine points, six rebounds and three critical free throws under pressure.
Napier has bailed out the Huskies before. Thursday, UConn did it together.
"He shared the game. He got a great gift to play this game, but you have to give it away," Ollie said. "All our guys stepped up. It wasn't a good 1st half but we believed. If you believe good things happen."
St. Joseph's through everything it had at UConn. Langston Galloway was the best player on the floor for much of the game and finished with 25 points. Kanacevic had 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists and was a matchup problem while Ronald Roberts had 15 points, and 10 rebounds and Deandre Bembry 16 points.
The Huskies withstood all that, rallying from a 10-point first half deficit and then an 8-point second half deficit to pull out their first NCAA win since beating Butler for the national title in 2011. Napier was a part of that team, and he saw how one player can carry a team in Kemba Walker. Napier did that late on Thursday, but together he had to rely on his teammates.
Brimah, a freshman, saved the season there.
"They are all grown. They all made a big plays," Napier said. "Got fouled and made a free throw at a pivotal moment; guys are scared, (Brimah) wasn't.
That's UConn's ticket forward if it wants to get out of Buffalo, and head back to Madison Square Garden.