Thursday night was supposed to be a night of celebration at Gampel Pavilion. The “Ryan Boatright” chants at the end of the game were supposed to be met with joy and maybe a speech reminiscent of Shabazz Napier’s a year ago.
Instead, UConn’s ninth-leading scorer in program history walked silently to the locker room, hands on his head, disbelief on his face.
His Senior Night was ruined by another late-game shot in an arena that gave the Huskies nothing but nightmares this season.
Shaq Goodwin drove into the lane, threw up a contested floater and watched desperately as it bounced from side to side before finally bouncing through, giving Memphis a 54-53 lead with 8.1 seconds left. Boatright’s desperation runner at the other end missed horribly and the Tigers swarmed the floor, celebrating a big-time win in their first trip to Gampel Pavilion.
The Huskies (17-12, 10-7 American) will finish the 2014-15 season 4-3 in Gampel, their worst record in the 25 years it has been open. Never before had a UConn team lost three times in its famous on-campus arena.
All three losses – Texas, Yale and Memphis – were by one point, and the visiting team hit the game-winning shot in the final 10 seconds in all three games.
“We get that one stop, rebound and the game’s over with,” Boatright said. “Like I said, all you can do is learn from your mistakes. We still have an opportunity to do what we want to do, which is get to the tournament. But it’s a little tougher task. It can be done, though.”
To do that, the Huskies will need to shoot far better than they did Thursday night.
Five days after putting 81 points on Southern Methodist, UConn shot 15-for-54 from the field. Its 27.8 field goal percentage ranks as the fourth-worst shooting performance by a UConn team since 1980. The last time the Huskies shot so poorly was Feb. 8, 1997 in an overtime loss to Notre Dame.
“I thought the guys just forgot what we did against SMU,” head coach Kevin Ollie said. “We shared the basketball, we played together, and I just thought there was a just a little bit too much selfishness out there today.”
UConn honored three senior players before the game: Boatright, Pat Lenehan and walk-on Dan Guest. On Wednesday, once the ceremony was over, Boatright said it was all about business.
And it was, at least for Memphis.
The Tigers (18-12, 10-7) came out firing, desperate to break out of a two-game skid. Eight minutes into the game, Memphis was up 16-4. Nothing was going right for UConn.
Looking for something, anything to get the Huskies going, Ollie turned to the least likely of players – Guest, the walk-on guard who had transferred from George Washington.
“I was looking for someone that could play – that was going to play with some urgency,” Ollie said.
Hardly the result of Guest’s presence, UConn was able to cut the lead by seven quickly thereafter, but back-to-back threes from Kedren Johnson and Trashon Burrell put Memphis up 13 with 9:40 left in the first half.
UConn was able to storm back down the stretch in the first half, coming back to tie the game at 26 in the final minute. Daniel Hamilton got two chances at a 3-pointer in the final three seconds of the half, but both bounced in and out.
The second half was far more even. Neither team led by more than four points, there were eight lead changes, and the game was tied five times.
The Huskies still could not buy a shot, making only eight of their 29 attempts in the final 20 minutes.
“We took too many contested shots. We didn’t stay in our offense,” Boatright said.
Memphis took its fifth lead of the half with 3:13 to play on a jumper from Burrell, who finished with 22 points. Hamilton gave the Huskies the lead back one minute later, faking a three before driving into the lane for a pull-up jumper.
Neither team would score for two minutes, until Goodwin’s floater, the dagger through UConn’s heart.
“Shaq made a good play,” Ollie said. “I thought Phil (Nolan) played good defense once again. The shot hit all parts of the rim and still bounced in.”