Facing End of Career, Napier Wills UConn to OT Victory; Consoles Roberts, Galloway in Final Seconds | Zagsblog
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Monday / June 17.
  • Facing End of Career, Napier Wills UConn to OT Victory; Consoles Roberts, Galloway in Final Seconds

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    BUFFALO –– With his team trailing St. Joe’s by five points at halftime here at the HSBC Arena, Shabazz Napier sat inside the UConn locker room aware that his college career was one half from extinction.

    St. Joe’s was ahead of UConn by five points and was riding a wave of momentum when Napier, who had only 5 points himself at the break, had his moment of clarity.

    “I told myself, ‘This could be it,'” Napier confided after the game. “I told myself this could be my last game if I don’t give it my all. That’s one thing I wouldn’t want. I would regret me not giving everything I possibly can for this team and I just told myself I didn’t want to lose.”

    The All-American senior guard then went out and scored 19 of his team-high 24 points in the second half and overtime as the Huskies beat a tough and resilient St. Joe’s, 89-81, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Napier scored nine points in the OT, when the Huskies outscored the fatigued Hawks, 19-11. He finished with eight rebounds and six assists.

    At the half, St. Joe’s senior guard Langston Galloway was the best guard on the floor, leading the way with 12 of his game-high 25 points.

    But Napier, playing in his first NCAA Tournament game in two years after the Huskies were banned from the postseason last year because of subpar APR scores, willed his team to victory.

    Napier won an NCAA championship as a freshman alongside Kemba Walker, and now the Huskies remain alive for a second one, thanks to another gutsy Northeastern guard. They will face the Villanova-Milwaukee winner here on Saturday, with a trip to the Sweet 16 and Madison Square Garden on the line.

    “Man, it was definitely excited to be in it,” he said. “I kind of forgot how madness [the NCAA Tournament] is, how crazy it is, but once I stepped on that court, I just told myself, ‘This is the one, this is the one we’ve all been working for.’ It can slowly come off your grasp if you don’t grab it, so we want to take the best of our opportunities. Today we got into a dogfight and I’m glad we was on top.”

    Amidah Brimah gathered a Napier miss off the glass and converted a 3-point play with 39 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 70.

    At that point, somebody’s career was going to end, either Napier’s or the trio of St. Joe’s seniors, Galloway, Ronald Roberts (15 points and 10 rebounds) and Halil Kanacevic (12 points, 7 rebounds). Sophomore DeAndre’ Bembry of New Jersey also had a great game with 16 points.

    “I didn’t want it to,” Napier said. “I wanted to continue to push myself and push my teammates.”

    When it was clear that Napier’s career would last another day, he made an incredibly classy move.

    When Roberts and Galloway subbed out for the last time with 9 seconds remaining in the OT (Kanacevic had fouled out earlier), he walked over to console them.

    “I didn’t know them guys until today, but when you play basketball with that competitiveness, you earn a lot of respect,” Napier said.

    “I’m passionate for the game, and I seen it in them guys’ eyes. They’re seniors and this is it. I would have loved for them to do the same thing for me. When you work so hard for something and it goes down the drain, it saddens me.”

    Said Galloway: “I mean, he’s  a great player and he was just saying a few words, saying that I had a great game. I’ll see him in the future.

    “Hopefully in my career, I’ll be able to play professionally and go with Halil, Ron and just see our games flourish, and we’ll see him down the line.”

    St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli said of the gesture: “I tried to build this program on respect, respect for the game, and I think that’s what he did.”

    Martelli said his three seniors were headed to the St. Joe’s Hall of Fame someday.

    “If [losing] is the hardest thing they face,” he said, “they’ve lived a blessed life.”

    For now, they are headed home, while Napier and the Huskies continue to dance.

     

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.

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