BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Eastern Washington’s players knew they would have to make a lot of 3-point shots to have a chance against No. 15 Connecticut.
The Eagles hoisted 28 on Saturday, but made just nine in an 82-65 loss to the Huskies.
Tyler Harvey scored 19 points to lead the Eagles (5-6), who trailed by just six points midway through the second half before UConn took control. Ognjen Miljkovic added 15 points and Drew Brandon 13.
“We got a lot of open looks,” said Harvey who converted just two of his nine attempts from behind the arc. “We knew we had to knock ‘em down to beat this team, and we struggled a bit.”
Coach Jim Hayford said his team was bothered by UConn’s length. The Huskies outscored the Eagles 40-20 in the paint, and had a huge advantage at the foul line, where UConn was 25 of 27. Eastern Washington attempted just seven free throws, making six.
“They are just a very quick team, and that’s why you have that discrepancy at the foul line,” Hayford said. “If they shoot 25 for 27 every game, they’re going to the Final Four.”
Shabazz Napier had 15 points and nine assists to lead a balanced Connecticut attack that saw five players reach double figures. Ryan Boatright had 14 points and Niels Giffey, making his first start this season, added 13.
UConn came in shooting just under 44 percent on 3s, but made just 3 of 10 shots from behind the arc. Eastern Washington was 3 of 13 in the first half. The Huskies had shot 46.5 percent on 3s over their first nine games, but are now just 13 of 44 in their last three.
“I thought we got caught up in shooting a lot 3s in a couple games, but now we’re getting back to basics, and we’re getting to the rim,” said UConn coach Kevin Ollie.
The Huskies led 30-23 at halftime, and took their first double-digit lead at 38-27 early in the second half on a dunk by DeAndre Daniels.
But a 3-pointer by Harvey cut the Eagles’ deficit to 48-42 midway through the second half, forcing Ollie to use a timeout.
Napier responded with a three-point play, and UConn stretched the lead to 58-45 after five straight points from Phil Nolan. Nolan, who also had started for most of the season, came off the bench for the second straight game and finished with 11 points.
“I was happy to see him scoring and see Omar scoring, because Omar was in a little slump,” said Napier. “You just see a team that’s excited about scoring. We need Omar and Phil to get where we want to go.”
The game, played during UConn’s winter break, gave the fan base and donors in wealthy Fairfield County a chance to see the team in person. It was the first “home” game played outside of Storrs or Hartford since the Huskies lost to Syracuse, 88-71, on Jan. 3, 1987, in New Haven.
Ollie’s wife, Stephanie, is from Bridgeport and had 16 members of her family at the game, which was played before more than 9,200 fans — an arena record.
“I felt the energy from the crowd, it was just a great family atmosphere,” said Ollie. “It took them a while to really start cheering, because we didn’t give them an opportunity.”
Harvey hit a 3-pointer to give Eastern Washington an early 11-8 lead, and a layup by Brandon with just over 6 minutes left put them in front 21-20.
The Huskies closed the first half on a 10-2 run, holding Eastern Washington scoreless for the final 4:21. Giffey had a 3-pointer and a layup in a 15-second span to give UConn a 30-23 lead with just under 3 minutes remaining, and neither team scored the rest of the period.
Eastern Washington, which was coming off a 92-70 loss at Seton Hall, has now dropped five of its last six to fall under .500 heading into conference play. The Eagles, in the middle of a four-game road trip, open the Big Sky schedule Jan. 2 at Weber State.
“It’s a positive for us,” said Harvey. “I thought we competed the whole 40 minutes. We just had a few shots that rimmed in and out. I think this really helped us prepare for our conference.”
The Eagles were playing a ranked team for the first time since November 2011. They fell to 1-19 against the Top 25, including 15 consecutive losses.