BUFFALO, N.Y. — Shabazz Napier won the game. And then he honored it.
Connecticut's do-everything guard scored nine of his 24 points in overtime to lead the Huskies past the Saint Joseph's Hawks 89-81 Thursday night. And when it was over he shared a hug and some words with Langston Galloway, the Hawks' guard who played so well in bitter defeat, and fellow senior Ron Roberts, who'd been taken out for an ovation in the game's closing seconds.
BOX SCORE: Connecticut 89, Saint Joseph's 81
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Napier explained the small moment with one simple word, the one Aretha Franklin spells R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
"I'm passionate for the game," Napier said. "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. But I'm happy I'm on the other end. I just wanted to show them my respect and tell the guy that he did a tremendous job. Just sometimes you fight, and you don't win the battle. Just showing respect, basically."
Galloway and Napier played critical roles in the game. Galloway, who had 25 to lead all scorers, was given the ball for Saint Joseph's final possession in regulation. Twice he lost his dribble, regained it, but he'd lost his rhythm as a result and forced a bad shot that caught the side of the backboard as the shot clock expired. That violation gave UConn a chance to win at the buzzer and Napier got off a 23-foot runner at the buzzer off a pass from a beautifully drawn cutting play. The shot caught rim but didn't fall.
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Saint Joseph's was in trouble, though, when the game went to OT because the game was played at a blistering pace and the Hawks have less depth, depending primarily on their starting five. They ran out of gas --- and players. Forward Halil Kanacevic, another senior, fouled out early in OT and the Hawks lost their way after leading for most of the game.
Napier found his way after hitting just two of eight shots in the first half.
"You know, at the end of the day, I've been playing basketball since I was 5-½," he said. "Just because I missed two shots, three shots, doesn't mean I'm not going to take the next one with a lot confidence."
UConn coach Kevin Ollie appreciated Napier's gesture of respect.
"You want to always respect the game," Ollie said. "You want to respect the players in the game. But that's why you play so hard. And that's what I try to tell each and every guy. You can't take this for granted because it can be taken away from you so easily, and every minute you've got to cherish."
Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli said he and his team hurt badly in defeat, but he appreciated Napier's gesture.
"To me, a lot of societal ways, we've lost our way because we no longer pay each other respect," Martelli said. "I tried to build this program on respect, respect for the game, and I think that's what (Napier) did."
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