RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Shabaz Napier is fairly confident that if Connecticut gets its running game going, nobody can keep up with the Huskies.
No. 14 Michigan State couldn’t, falling 66-62 in the Armed Forces Classic in a hangar on the U.S. Ramstein Air Base in a game that finished at 2:30 a.m. Saturday.
Napier led all scorers with 25 points.
“We are too fast, we are a transition team and when we get going, no one can keep up with us," Napier said. “We just tried to do what they did, transition. We got some easy rebounds, they came off the boards and we let them go."
Kevin Ollie’s first game and win as the Huskies’ head coach was watched by former coach Jim Calhoun, who worked as play-by-play radio commentator.
After the game, UConn players and Ollie ran and embraced Calhoun, the Hall of Famer who retired in September.
“He’s always been by my side and I appreciate him so much," Ollie said. “He told me don’t lay on this, build on it and continue to make them play hard. It’s a great win for our program, for the new era. A lot of people could have quit but they stayed here for what Coach Calhoun built."
Ollie has been given only a one-year contract with a team that returns just five players who saw significant playing time last season.
UConn led most of the way and by as many as 16 points in the first half of the game.
“We executed the game plan and the game plan was to play hard. We stepped up to the plate, we took the challenge and we came up with a victory," Ollie said.
Keith Appling scored 17 points and Branden Dawson had 15 points and 10 rebounds for Michigan State.
Gary Harris scored to pull the Spartans to 62-60, but Denzel Valentine and Appling each missed a shot in the last minute that would have tied the game, forcing Michigan State to foul.
Napier hit four free throws in the final 13 seconds to seal the win. Ryan Boatright had 13 points, despite rolling his ankle in the second half, and DeAndre Daniels added 12 for the Huskies.
The 14th-ranked Spartans hit just one of their first eight shots, while Connecticut made nine of its first 10, and raced out to a 20-6 lead on a 3-pointer from Napier.
In other games on Friday:
No. 1 Indiana 97
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Cody Zeller had 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Christian Watford added 15 points and 15 rebounds to lead Indiana past Bryant.
No. 3 Kentucky 72
NEW YORK — Junior guard Jarrod Polson scored 10 points and made the clinching free throws with 7.7 seconds to play as Kentucky held off a furious second-half rally by Maryland.
No. 5 Michigan 100
Slippery Rock 62
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 25 points, surpassing 1,000 for his career in Michigan’s win over Slippery Rock.
No. 6 N.C. State 97
Miami (Ohio) 59
RALEIGH, N.C. — Richard Howell had 16 points and 10 rebounds to help North Carolina State beat Miami (Ohio) in the season opener for both teams.
No. 7 Kansas 74
SE Missouri State 55
LAWRENCE, Kan. — Ben McLemore had nine points, 12 rebounds and five assists in his Kansas debut, helping the Jayhawks pull away from pesky Southeast Missouri State.
No. 8 Duke 74
Georgia State 55
DURHAM, N.C. — Mason Plumlee had 19 points and 14 rebounds to lead Duke to the win over Georgia State.
No. 11 North Carolina 76
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — James Michael McAdoo set career highs with 26 points and 14 rebounds to help North Carolina beat Gardner-Webb.
No. 16 Creighton 71
N. Texas 51
OMAHA, Neb. — Doug McDermott had 21 points and 11 rebounds to lead Creighton to a season-opening victory over North Texas.
No. 19 Baylor 99
WACO, Texas — Baylor freshman center Isaiah Austin scored 22 points in 17 minutes before spraining his right ankle, and Corey Jefferson had 26 points for Baylor in a season-opening victory over Lehigh.
No. 21 Gonzaga 103
Southern Utah 65
SPOKANE, Wash. — Freshman Przemek Karnowski scored 22 points to lead Gonzaga over Southern Utah in the season opener for both teams.
South Alabama 76
No. 25 Florida State 71
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Antoine Allen hit four 3-pointers and scored 21 points to lead South Alabama to a season-opening upset of Florida State.