Huskies, Facey find inside game, take care of North Florida, 80-59.
STORRS: Kentan Facey had a great dream recently.
One that had him hugging his father, Kenneth who had passed away from Cardiovascular Disease before his junior year at the University of Connecticut and had weighed heavily on his mind at times since.
“The good thing is that I had a great dream the other day,” the senior forward said. “I saw him and we were smiling and laughing and I hugged him and I woke up feeling happy, I feel like that just helped me today. I was just in a great mood all week.”
His great mood led to his best performance as a Huskie, one that saw him score a career high 20 points, grab nine rebounds and block four shots in an 80-59 win over North Florida in which UConn turned to their big men, who dominated the Ospreys inside by a 40-10 margin.
Facey’s father never had a chance to watch him play but must have been smiling down on his son after a game that his team needed something good to happen and he made sure it did.
It’s no secret that UConn has struggled on the offensive shooting mostly from the outside, averaging just 39 percent over their last four games in which they averaged just 58 points per game.
On Sunday, the Huskies shot over 60 percent much of the game and finished at 53.7 with the most impressive number being nine.
That’s how many three point shots UConn attempted all game versus the Ospreys 31 attempts from long range, something that made their coach very happy.
“I really like nine, three-pointers,” Ollie said. “I’m kind of like and old school coach, I don’t like the 30 three-pointers teams are taking, but I think we just really focused on points in the paint.”
After falling behind 7-2 early, the Huskies began a relentless attack from the inside and by the half had 24 points in the paint versus the Ospreys four.
Everybody was in the mix. Amida Brimah led a balanced attack with nine first half points, followed by eight from Facey with each big man coming up with three blocks each.
North Florida brought Dallas Moore with them, a senior guard who came in averaging over 23 points per game and between Moore’s 15, first half points and eight total made threes by the team, the road team was able to hang around, trailing by just five at 41-36 at the break.
Moore, who Ollie predicted will be in the NBA at some point, made tough shots in the first half on the way to a 15-point effort by the break including a pair of long range, NBA style three pointers that helped keep North Florida in the game in the opening 20 minutes.
An adjustment at halftime placed more focus on the lefty sharpshooter and his teammates who after the sharp first half, connected on just four of 14 long balls in the second half.
“We knew coming in that he was their best player, he was their guy,” freshman Christian Vital said. “He’s the playmaker so Rodney (Purvis), Jalen (Adams) and I kind of took it personally that we were going to make sure that he didn’t have one of his regular games where he’s going off for 30. We were able to execute the game plan.”
Ollie appreciated the effort by his defense, especially in the second half.
“We kind of took Dallas (Moore) out of the game a little bit in the second half,” Ollie said. “For him to have just three points in the half was really huge for us.”
Still, this win was mostly about the senior from Trelawny, Jamaica who had shown spurts over his career but had never shown the dominance on display on Sunday.
What has made the difference?
“He’s just playing with a clear mind,” Ollie said. “I think he’s in his best place ever mentally, he had a lot of things, that I wouldn’t say went against him but losing his dad and things like that can take you kind of away from basketball and kind of depressed a little bit but I think he bounced back. He talked to the people around him who he loved and he’s just been bouncing back with a clear mind. He’s playing with confidence and I believe in him.”
Facey was back in the starting six games coming in, having come off the bench in the other three but was back in the starting lineup on Sunday and his coach is looking happy to use him in either role.
“However he wants to do things,” Ollie said, “Come off the bench or start, I just want him to keep playing with that energy and he’s really making the game simple. I think the worst place sometimes is in your own head. I think he’s just playing with a clear mind understanding that he’s going to play hard and see what it does each and every night. He’s doing a remarkable job and I just tip my hat to him.”
Adams was the commander for the offense Sunday, posting a double-double with 13 points and 10 assists and his head coach like how he ran the show.
“The key is Jalen, Jalen’s got to control the game,” Ollie said. “He’s got to be aggressive, he’s got to be a leader out there and I think he did that all night. He was posed with the basketball. For us to have 18 assists and 10 turnovers and have nine turnovers in the first half and come back with one in the second half means they just listened to the game plan.”
The Huskies front line runs big with Brimah (7’0”), Steven Enoch (6’11”), Facey (6’10”) and Vance Jackson (6’8”) and on Sunday combined for 41 points and 24 rebounds.
“Our bigs pretty much dominated the game,” Kevin Ollie said. “We really wanted to focus on having balance and just looking at the stat sheet, we took just nine three-pointers.”
UConn had five players score in double figures for the first time this year with Purvis adding 13, including 11 in a row in a key spurt in the second half when the Huskies opened up their biggest lead at 70-55.
Vital had 13 while Brimah finished with 11.
It’s a start for the Huskies who have had to adjust to a great deal of adversity themselves this year due to injuries but utilizing their height to open up the outside game as well, may just be a recipe they can cook with.
Now 5-5, UConn has one more game before staring their American Athletic Conference schedule when they host Auburn and former Sacred Heart of Waterbury star Mustapha Heron on Friday afternoon at 2:30 at the XL Center in Hartford.
Houston comes to Hartford on Wednesday, December 28 for a 3 p.m. game against the Huskies in the conference opener.
NOTES: UConn shot just 69.2 percent from the free throw line with Brimah (1-5) accounting for the most misses.
UConn blocked 13 shots and had seven steals and won the rebounding battle 40-35 after being outrebounded by a 9-5 margin eight minutes in.
The Huskies shot 60.7 in the first half, with most being low risk inside.
7110 were on hand for the Huskies last game at Gampel until January 11 when they host AAC foe Temple in a 9 p.m. start.