With six minutes remaining in the contest, UConn got the ball after a defensive stop and rebound by RJ Evans. With the score tied 53-53, Ryan Boatrigh dominated the ball for 26 of the 35 second shot clock. Coming off of a high ball screen as the clock dwindled, NC State hedged out on defense. UConn's diminutive point guard was unable to get past the defense, leading to a blocked shot and shot clock violation. From here, CJ Leslie made two free throws, Shabazz Napier missed a three; Richard Howell scored on an offensive rebound tip shot (UConn's Achilles heal). On UConn's next possession, DeAndre Daniels got too far in the lane and, in an attempt to kick it out, turned the ball over. CJ Leslie led the break and jammed it home to give NC State a 59-53 lead that UConn could not overcome.
What Went Right
UConn came out firing. Within ten minutes, UConn led 20-9, making five three point attempts early. Hands were all over the place defensively, getting steals and leading to fast break opportunities. Three of these opportunities were missed from close range, but they were all shots they could have fallen to keep and extend early leads.
This team was overmatched physically, but still played incredibly tough. No opponent will come out with more passion and energy than UConn. UConn just missed out on a number of lose balls that were not due to a lack of hustle, but wrong bounces on the ground fell into Wolfpack instead of Husky fans. A few differences here, and UConn could have won this game.
I will get to him later, but Enosch Wolf played incredibly well. He kept NC State out of the paint when in the game, showed a nice offensive repertoire, and hedged effectively on defense. NC State ran most possessions from the inside-out, so his length and patience defensively were important in keeping UConn close.
What Went Wrong
Tyler Olander is in a funk. His recent misery continued as he amassed three rebounds and only one defensive. Tyler is, generally, a better offensive option than Wolf, but this was not the case yesterday, taking zero shots. He was consistently beat on the backside for rebounds. It is understandable to struggle against much bigger players on the glass, but leaving wide open lanes to simple put backs is not doing the team any favors. It is a team effort to get rebounds for UConn and fundamentals are a necessity. Giving up fifteen offensive rebounds (only one was on a long rebound) is far too many down low. At halftime, Boatright was UConn's leading rebounder.
While bullish on Omar Calhoun and Daniels in the long term, the two looked out of sync last night. The two combined for seven of the team's ten turnovers, many coming late in critical situations. For a kid from New York, playing at MSG for the first time is the Holy Grail, and Calhoun tried to be as big as the stage. This was a learning experience for him that will, hopefully, come in handy down the road this year and beyond.
UConn needs to do a better job getting easy shots. 23 three-point attempts are too many and not all were open looks. UConn's guards are incredibly quick and nimble, but once in the lane, they need to find the bigs and cutters for easy baskets. Omar Calhoun is very strong and would gain a lot of confidence from cutting after high ball screens to receive passes as the defense focuses on UConn's two stars. This team has talent, but needs to become more cohesive on offense.
The battle of the frontcourts went to NC State. More rebounding on the defensive side was needed. UConn will not play a better frontcourt all season than the combo of Leslie and Howell. While Niels Giffey played Leslie tough, he could not rebound. Daniels could not rebound. Olander could not rebound. Boatright, Wolf, and Omar Calhoun were UConn's top defensive rebounders and that will be neither expected nor prosperous on most nights. Offensive boards lead to easy buckets and free throws - UConn's ultimate demise last night.
Three Stars of the Game
1. Enosch Wolf - Wolf has given UConn more than was expected already this year. He scored in double digits, showing off a jumper, hook, tips, and tough boards. Defensively, he limited Howell and was strong on the glass. Wolf played the best and most consistent game last night. NC State's "turning point" run occurred with Wolf on the bench and the little comebacks happened with Wolf in the game.
2. Shabazz Napier - Well, Shabazz in the first half. Different than in the US Virgin Islands, Napier came out hot and fizzled late. Napier scored fifteen points in the first half, then only four in the second (with two in the waning seconds). Napier led the team in scoring and was pesky on defense. He had to guard the sweet shooting and much taller, Scott Wood, and limited his attempts when assigned there.
3. Ryan Boatright -Boatright played a solid game, scoring 18 points, pulling down six boards, and adding two steals. He is the catalyst for the offense and needs to keep getting teammates involved in positions to score. He has incredible quickness and ability to draw the defense. He may not trust everyone, but if he can get the other guys the ball in easy situations, that trust will build, leading to better shooting percentages for himself (8/20 last night).