ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP) _ Shabazz Napier thanked his teammates for showing confidence in him. Why wouldn’t they when he’s doing this?
Napier scored 28 points, Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun added 17 apiece, and Connecticut beat DePaul 81-69 on Saturday night.
The Huskies (19-7, 9-5 Big East) got all they could handle from one of the league’s worst teams after squeezing by Cincinnati in overtime, but they still came away with their seventh win in nine games.
They trailed by three points at the break and were down one early in the second half when they scored 13 straight to take control and send the Blue Demons (11-16, 2-12) to their 11th loss in 12 games.
Napier, who scored 27 against Cincinnati, came up big again, hitting 5 of 7 3-pointers and keying the decisive rally.
“I tried to be a little more aggressive and I was fortunate to make a couple of shots,” said Napier, who had 17 points in the second half. “I’m thankful that my teammates have so much confidence in me. They continue to keep pushing me and pushing me, and I’m thankful for that.”
Calhoun delivered down the stretch, scoring all but two of his points in the second half. Not bad, considering he’s been bothered lately by a sprained right wrist.
For the game, he and Boatright, who is from nearby Aurora, Ill., both shot 7 of 11 from the field, and the Huskies shot 60 percent. Even so, they were still trailing 47-46 about five minutes into the second half when they finally started to put this one away.
Napier nailed a 3-pointer and converted a three-point play on a fast-break layup to start the decisive run. Niels Giffey added a corner 3 and finished it with a layup after Calhoun scored on the break, making it 59-47 with 11:28 to go.
The Huskies stayed in control the rest of the way.
DePaul got 20 points and 10 rebounds from Cleveland Melvin and shot 48 percent, but it was just 5 of 15 on 3-pointers. Brandon Young, who scored a career-high 35 in a loss at Connecticut last month, finished with 13 this time.
The Blue Demons were in good shape at the half, taking a 37-34 lead to the locker room after they wiped out a 29-22 deficit.
Melvin buried a 3 to start a 12-0 run and had an emphatic fast-break dunk. Charles McKinney had a layup and 3 during that stretch, and Donnavan Kirk finished it with a jumper to make it 34-29 with two minutes remaining.
Then, after a jumper by Boatright and 3 by Napier to tie it, Young drove for a three-point play in the closing seconds to send DePaul to the locker room with the lead.
UConn went on a run early in the second half to take a four-point lead, but Melvin tied it at 45 with a pair of dunks. He also hit a baseline jumper to put DePaul ahead 47-46 before the Huskies took control.
“Clearly, it was a different deal in the second half,” Blue Demons coach Oliver Purnell said. “We lost guys. We gave them open shots.”
The big beneficiary was Calhoun, who took just three shots in the first half. It was a different story after that, and all Purnell could do when asked about him afterward was lament, “Open shots. Open shots. Division I player, and a pretty damn good one.”
Napier said, “Calhoun was struggling in the first half and I just told him to keep shooting it,” Napier said. “Something ignited in him and he couldn’t miss a shot. That’s what we see from him all the time.”
Boatright had his moments, also, with too many family members and friends to count watching. He was mobbed in the concourse afterward, getting pulled in every direction.
“All these kids out here came to see me,” he said. “They look up to me. They come from my area. Not a lot of people make it out where I come from. I try to be the best role model I can be. If you put your mind to it and do the right things, you can make it to college.”