PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – R.J. Cole scored 26 points and Isaiah Whaley hit two late 3-pointers in his return to the lineup, helping No. 22 UConn beat VCU 70-63 in overtime for third place at the Battle 4 Atlantis on Friday.
Whaley had 16 points for the Huskies (6-1), including a tying 3 late in regulation and the go-ahead 3 at the 3:54 mark in OT. He also came up with a punctuating three-point play with 4.5 seconds left, celebrating his breakaway basket by with celebratory punches and two head-butts on the padded basket support.
The 6-foot-9 graduate forward missed Thursday’s loss to Michigan State after fainting briefly after playing 43 minutes during a double-overtime win against No. 19 Auburn in Wednesday’s first round.
UConn won despite shooting just 33% while committing 22 turnovers, with Whaley’s 3 standing as the only basket in overtime for either team until the final 12 seconds.
Jayden Nunn scored 21 points for the Rams (3-4), who led by four late in regulation. VCU had its own offensive troubles, shooting 36% and going 2 for 9 in the extra period.
This was a defensive-oriented game with physical play, one in which neither the Huskies nor the Rams got many easy looks. And it turned nearly everything after halftime into a grind to the finish, with neither team leading by more than four points in the second half.
VCU led 54-50 before UConn’s Tyrese Martin knocked down a 3 from the corner. The Huskies tied it at 56 when Whaley knocked down a 3 off a kickout from Adama Sanogo with 1:05 left.
UConn got the last chance to avoid overtime with an inbounds play from near half-court with 0.8 seconds left, but Cole’s catch-and-turn 3 near his bench hit the rim and fell away to push the game into overtime.
VCU: The Rams opened the tournament by beating Syracuse 67-55, holding the Orange to 29% shooting, but they lost to reigning national champion Baylor 69-61 in Thursday’s semifinals. VCU’s defense is ranked among KenPom’s national leaders in defensive efficiency (88.6 points allowed per 100 possessions) and played like it, but the Rams just couldn’t come up with a couple of needed baskets late to win this one.
UConn: The Huskies’ first-round win was a memorable one, a wild 115-109 double-overtime victory against No. 19 Auburn filled with big shots down the stretch. UConn gave up the final nine points in a 64-60 semifinal loss to Michigan State on Thursday, but this time had enough to finish strong in the overtime against VCU’s defensive pressure.
VCU: The Rams get a week off before hosting Campbell on Dec. 4.
UConn: The Huskies host Maryland-Eastern Shore on Tuesday.