Okwandu Comes Up Big In Greater Hartford Pro-Am

Charles Okwandu played one of his better games Friday night at the Greater Hartford Pro-Am.

And he needed to because his Pauly Chute Slamm team got scraped by 30 points Monday — by the same team, Harte Nissan, it played Friday. And for a little added significance, this was the 8-9 game, the play-in game for the playoffs.

Winner moves on. Loser goes home. Both teams entered the game with 2-6 records but one of them saw its big man rise to the occasion like he rarely has this season.

"I think I'm getting back in shape," said the 7-foot Okwandu, a member of the Huskies' 2011 national championship team. "The first game was terrible. My wife drove me to the gym the same night and I had to lift some weights. I have to represent my family out here, UConn, whatever, people who cheer me on, so getting in shape is key for me and I'm getting in shape."

Okwandu finished with 14 points Friday, but it's safe to say without his buckets and his defensive effort highlighted by a couple of backboard pins, Pauly Chute Slamm would not have escaped SMSA with a 103-99 win in overtime.

In addition to Okwandu's inspired play, Pauly Chute finished a game.

"Wednesday night was a tough night for him, too," Bobby Moore said of a double-OT loss Pauly suffered, running out of gas at the end.

Okwandu had been running out of gas, too.

"Yeah (Okwandu) did play good tonight," Moore said. "He actually called me Wednesday night, he said, 'Hey Bobby, I'm sorry I missed a couple dunks but I'm here for you Friday night.' And guess what? He came to play."

So did LSU-bound Tremont Waters, who forced the overtime with 2 of 3 made free throws with 4.2 seconds left in regulation after being fouled on a three-point shot. Lucas Hausman cashed in two more in the final seconds of OT for the margin of victory. Jerry Buchanon added 15 for Pauly, which will face top-seeded Vantage Sportsnet Monday at 6:30 p.m.

Marcus James had 25 to lead Harte Nissan. Pauly led early at times but really struggled to gain an advantage in the second half and was nearly pushed out of it late in the third quarter trailing by 12, 71-59.

"It was a tough game, exciting game," Okwandu said. "They can shoot the ball. We just had to play as a team, pass the ball to the open man on offense and play good defense and we would have a chance. They were trying to stretch the lead on us but we kept playing, kept it close."

Harte went on a 20-0 run late to blow away Pauly Monday night. It looked to distance itself in the final four minutes with an 82-73 lead Friday, but it was in trouble when Waters splashed a three. Okwandu got a steal on the next trip down that led to a Buchanon three to pull Pauly within 82-79.

Harte tried to pull away again, leading by five, 86-81, with 21/2 minutes to play, but Okwandu pinned a James shot on the glass and it inspired his team down the stretch. Pauly pulled within 88-87 with 10 seconds to play and Quinnipiac's Chase Daniels added one of two free throws.

Waters was fouled on the three-point shot with 4.2 seconds left and a chance to put his team ahead. He hit the first and last free throws and missed the second.

Harte built a six-point lead in the OT. Buchanon scored on a layup, Okwandu was credited with two points when his teardrop was punched and called goaltending, and Waters connected on a pair of free throws with Hausman sealing the deal.

"We came in together in this one and we held on," Moore said. "This team we're playing next, we lost to them by four on opening night, same thing, it was a great game. I'm sure we can get them because we have the mindset and the mentality that we should be the No.1 seed and that's how we're going to play."