DeAndre Daniels entered the game with relatively low expectations. The sophomore forward had only scored 22 points in the last three games combined (Stony Brook, New Hampshire, and N.C. State). To make matters worse, it was reported that Daniels was battling back spasms since the loss to N.C. State on Tuesday.
The 6-foot-8 forward came out, connecting on his first five shots, en route to a career-high 23 points off 9-of-12 shooting with four rebounds in a 57-49 win over Harvard at home at Gampel Pavilion.
The Huskies got off to a great start, scoring the game’s first 11 points. Seven minutes into the game, the Huskies led the Crimson, 15-2, with Daniels having eight of those 15. At the break, Daniels had already tied his career-high, yet he Ryan Boatright and Enosch Wolf were the only UConn players to score, leading Harvard 27-24 heading into halftime.
Harvard never led in the game, but did cut it to 33-32 on a Wesley Saunders layup with 14:34 remaining. Daniels made a layup two possessions later to up UConn’s led to 35-32. Following the official timeout after the 12 minute mark, Shabazz Napier, still looking for his first points of the night, was swarmed by the Harvard defense, jumped and found Daniels streaking for an open layup, opening the lead to 37-32. UConn would score its next two buckets – a Neils Giffey fast break dunk and a Tyler Olander old fashion 3-point play – off Napier passes.
Napier didn’t hit a shot until 7:41, when his 3-pointer gave UConn a 44-34 lead. He did however have five rebounds and seven assists at that time, which made Daniels performance all the more important.
The junior point guard is averaging a team-high 18.6 points per game, but struggled from the field with 2-of-7 shooting for six points, seven rebounds, and nine assists. Boatright finished with a solid 16 points, but Daniels’ hot start set the tempo for the Huskies. He helped give the Huskies an early lead, which rapidly went away once Harvard was able to drive the ball and find open shooters – five 3-pointers in the first half.
If Daniels can remain a consistent third option, UConn could become a more balanced attack offensive, taking the strain off the backcourt of Napier and Boatright.
Freshman Omar Calhoun could be that third option, but he’s 5-of-22 (1-for-12 from deep) from the field over the last three games, only scoring over five points in a win over New Hampshire, where eight of his 16 points came from the line. Besides, UConn needs a scoring presence on the frontline. Wolf and Olander are capable of nice contributions offensively, but neither has the skill set Daniels possesses.
The emergence of Daniels as a third option could be huge for a team that strongly relies on its backcourt. With three more games before Big East play starts, Daniels’ consistency could become a huge factor for Kevin Ollie’s club.
Terrence is also the lead writer at NEHoopNews.com and can be followed on Twitter: @terrence_payne