William & Mary entered Gampel Pavilion with a slew of three-point snipers and quickly shed any fear of the No.14 Huskies.
The Tribe, which lived and died beyond the arc all night, hit six three-pointers before the Huskies could hit one.
The Tribe was also active on the glass, capitalizing on putbacks and even third chances. Both teams finished with 34 boards, though the Huskies were out-boarded 19-14 in the second half.
The Tribe trailed by just six points at halftime and pulled to within four points, 39-35, at the start of the second half.
That’s when William & Mary ran into a buzz saw in Jerome Dyson.
Dyson, who scored a game-high 27 points and doled out eight assists, made up for some lost time throughout the second half.
The Huskies’ senior guard missed last year’s run to the Final Four, sidelined by a torn-up knee (after locking knees with Kristof Ongenaet during a win against Syracuse on Feb. 11, 2009).
The 6-3 Dyson, who starred as a frosh but missed significant chunks of his sophomore and junior seasons due to a team suspension and the aforementioned injury, respectively, orchestrated a personal 10-2 surge midway through the second half.
The high-flying antics, lock-down defense (he had a game-high four steals) and clutch shooting of Dyson helped the Huskies to a 75-66 victory before an announced 9,719 at Gampel.
“I’d like to congratulate William & Mary for outplaying us,” said an exasperated Jim Calhoun. The old general was irate as he witnessed his team get outworked on the boards in the second.
“They beat us on the glass. I know it says 34-34 (in rebounding totals), but they had a 13-10 advantage on offensive rebounding.”
Calhoun was visibly frustrated at his team’s lack of grit and listless performance.
Never one to bottle up his frustrations, Calhoun called the Huskies’ performance “lackluster" and lambasted multiple players.
The Hall of Fame coach called out forward Gavin Edwards (albeit not referencing him by name, as he habitually does when chewing out players before the crowd of scribes) in the post-game press conference.
Edwards was torched to the tune of 20 points and four three-pointers by Quinn McDowell, a versatile 6-foot-6 sophomore. McDowell got open with ease and shot the ball at an 8-for-15 clip.
“We don’t have four-man,” said Calhoun. “His guy got 20 tonight, because he continues to overhelp, as he’s done for four straight years."
"The kid, McDowell, is still open," Calhoun quipped.
Did Calhoun rip his players for playing a soft and half-baked brand of basketball?
“That’s a very big understatement,” said Edwards.
After closing to within four points, the Tribe continued to stay within striking distance of the Huskies.
Wedged in between a pair of threes from freshmen Darius Smith and sophomore point guard Kemba Walker was a mammoth trey by David Schneider, who netted four of the Tribe’s 13 three-pointers.
That’s when Dyson put the Huskies on his back.
He nailed a long trey that gave the Huskies a 50-41 cushion. On the ensuing possession, Dyson carved up the defense and whipped an alley pass to Stanley “Sticks” Robinson (27 points), who flew in for the flush. Dyson then got open to bury a set three—he literally took a picture of the rim before releasing—giving the Huskies’ a 55-41 bulge.
Following a Tribe bucket, Dyson penetrated the teeth of the defense for a layin he kissed off the glass, cushioning the Huskies’ lead, 57-43, with just fewer than 12 minutes remaining.
“Jerome played awful and good at the same time tonight,” said Calhoun.
On Dyson, Tribe coach Tony Shaver was singing a different tune.
“He just sort of took the game over at Times,” said Shaver.
Another deep three from Schneider sliced UConn’s lead to 63-58 with 4:35 remaining, but the Huskies’ kept their distance by running off five straight points.
Those five critical, unanswered points were capped off by a Stanley Robinson dunk off his own missed free throw.
“They outplayed us,” said Robinson of the Tribe. “It’s kind of shocking at times when we should actually be winning and rebounding. At first (while leading 19-7), we felt like we were running away with it. They ended up coming back, they were shooting more threes, they made more shots. They did what they had to do, but we got the win.”
“It seemed like everyone was really on a different level tonight,” explained Edwards. “Nobody was really in sync in the first half.”
Alex Oriahki, a highly-touted freshman from the Tilton School (N.H.) had a solid debut, hitting all four of his shots and finishing two points shy of a double-double. The wide-bodied five-man swallowed 10 rebounds, three offensive, in 36 minutes.
“Alex is going to always be Alex,” said Robinson of his teammate. “He’s a great player. He came in, he sparked it for us in the beginning. He only had I think like one bucket in the second half, but he can always improve. We can always improve.”
Oriahki is likely to play major minutes early on, due to UConn carrying a thin front court without 6-11 freshmen Ater Majok (ineligible until December).
“It was just a bad game for us,” said Robinson, who’s stepping into a more prominent role this season after being too much of a feast-or-famine presence (or non-presence) in previous years.
“We did get the win, but I’d just say they outplayed us,” said Robinson.