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Napier leads No. 4 UConn past Coppin State, 87-70

November 20, 2011

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HARTFORD, Conn.—Longtime Coppin State head coach Ron Mitchell doesn't have his team play a challenging nonconference schedule every year just to watch his Eagles get beaten.

"I'm not one of those guys just looking for pain," Mitchell said. "I want to get something from this."

Sunday afternoon against No. 4 Connecticut, Mitchell's Eagles nearly did get something big. Coppin State led the defending national champions by 13 points in the first half before eventually falling 87-70.

"Of course the results weren't what I wanted, but you have to give Connecticut credit for putting the pressure on us. When they had to turn it up, they turned it up," Mitchell said.

Point guard Shabazz Napier shouldered much of the load for UConn (4-0), recording a triple-double with 22 points, 13 assists and 12 rebounds. Jeremy Lamb, despite playing on a sprained ankle, scored 25 points for the Huskies.

Senior guard Tony Gallo had 21 points for Coppin State (1-3) after scoring a game-high 22 in a loss to Oklahoma on Friday. He had 17 against UConn in last year's game.

Napier, from Roxbury, Mass., and Gallo, from nearby Lynn, have played each other many times before. They have what Napier called "a rivalry where there's a lot of love" and engaged in some playful trash-talking throughout the game.

Even though it took that early 13-point lead and made 12 3-pointers in the game, Coppin State couldn't keep up as UConn made 74 percent (20 of 27) of its shots in the second half.

"You appreciate any time you have a lead," Mitchell said. "But everything went sour after they took the first lead. Then the struggle began."

Napier's triple-double was the ninth in UConn history and the first since Kemba Walker had one last season against Maryland-Baltimore County. Walker sat in the front row behind the UConn bench Sunday.

"He was really good today. I don't care who we were playing, he was really good," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said of Napier, who committed just one turnover in 39 minutes on the court. "He threw some terrific passes. He went in and rebounded. Obviously he made big-time shots."

Despite being a little road weary -- Coppin State lost to Oklahoma 92-65 on Friday night -- the Eagles managed to start the game extremely well and took a quick 27-14 lead. The Eagles made nine of their first 14 shots, including a 5-for-9 effort from 3-point range. Akeem Ellis had 11 points in the game's first nine minutes.

After falling behind by 13 points, the Huskies finally came alive, scoring 12 straight points behind Napier's penetration and passing. Even though Coppin State snapped that run with Mike Simpson's basket, UConn was still able to score 27 of the last 34 points in the first half to take a 41-34 lead at the break.

The Eagles know they have work to do before they pick up a win over a ranked opponent.

"What we learned a little more today is the discipline it's going to take to be able to do that," Mitchell said. "Our guys, they like to shoot that thing. Trying to keep them calm is a hard task."

Though they had Lamb in the lineup, the Huskies did play without freshman guard Ryan Boatright, who was serving the fourth game of his six-game NCAA suspension.

The Huskies boarded a bus for Boston following the game. They'll fly to the Bahamas on Monday for this week's Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, playing their first game against UNC-Asheville on Thursday.