Huskies find a way to survive, beat BU, 51-49.
HARTFORD: The new norm is settling in for the University of Connecticut men’s basketball team and it centers on a couple of things that simply have to go right.
They have to figure out how to consistently score some points and they have to rebound.
I know, that sounds real simply and obvious, but in this case, it really is a dilemma for this newly reshaped squad.
With three players gone the way of the disabled list for the year, a trio of players who were expected to be major or at least significant contributors to the team in 2016-2017, their margin for error has simply disappeared.
Gone the way of the glaciers in parts of Alaska, or civility on social media, or a cheap ticket to see a New York Mets game now that they committed to a $110 million dollar contract for a guy who hasn’t shown up in the later part of his first two years.
The new look Huskies, now just eight scholarship players strong, rode the back of freshman Christian Vital to just get by Boston University by a 51-49 final on Wednesday night in Hartford in a game that was hard to describe on the offensive side for the now 3-4 team from Storrs.
The head coach knows he has a tough road ahead and was happy to come away with the “W” on a tough night after a tough week.
“We’re just going to try and get better,” head coach Kevin Ollie said. “We’ve got eight guys and we’re going to keep playing with those guys. We played defense and we stayed in the game so I’m very pleased with that. I’m very pleased with the win, we found a way to win.”
Vital and Steven Enoch made their first starts on Wednesday night as Ollie put together another starting line-up, one of many he has tinkered with so far this year and the coach was generally pleased with what he got from the freshman from Queens, New York.
Part of getting a new player comfortable is letting them know what to expect, something the coaching staff talked to him about.
“I just want Christian to understand his role,” Ollie said. “He doesn’t have to prove himself even though he’s a freshman. He made some good shots on some kick outs. We want him to let him teammates create for him, play good defense and be tough.”
For his part, Vital, who scored 10 of his 13 points in the second half, including a clutch pair of three pointers that gave the Huskies a little breathing room, he’s just trying to get better every day.
“I just have to play hard, play with confidence,” Vital said. “Seems like a guy keeps dropping every game we play. Hopefully that curse comes off of us but as of now we have eight players and we need to just keep learning from each other.”
Eric Fanning led the way for BU with 21 hard earned points, the only other player aside from Vital to break into double figures.
The Huskies had the advantage in the turnover department, but didn’t convert anywhere near as well as they should have.
“We got 15 turnovers and we didn’t convert those into points (just two),” Ollie said. “Jalen (Adams) has got to get the ball, command it, especially when we hold a team to just 31 percent shooting.”
The stats were hard to fathom even as the Huskies won their first home game of the year.
UConn shot 17 of 53 for the game for 32.1 percent and came away with the win.
The Terriers shot 18-58 for the game or 31 percent, but still had a chance to tie the game with under two seconds left.
After lighting things up in Maui last week, sophomore Jalen Adams had an awful night, shooting just 3 of 15. Senior Rodney Purvis connected on just 2 of 10 and the list goes on.
Shooting the lights out was not something anyone wrote during the first twelve minutes as the Huskies were a stunningly bad 4 of 16 at the third media timeout.
Connecticut, the state, was not the only thing in a drought during the first half, and it’s not that the shots were launched from everywhere, it was that they seemed to be allergic to finding the bottom of the net, especially on the ones in close.
The two teams set basketball back some by combining to shoot 14 of 54 in the first 20 minutes, but a 13-6 run (one that really didn’t feel like a run) over the final eight minutes of the half gave UConn a slim 21-17 lead going into the break.
UConn did enough in the second half to keep the visitors at bay but the word barely comes to mind.
With 3:12 left in the second half, the Huskies built their biggest lead of the game at 44-36 seven straight points by Fanning brought it back to a one possession game.
UConn left points on the free throw line, 11 for the game and two with under 15 seconds to play.
Amida Brimah was next on the scoring list for UConn with nine, but connected on just 5 of 10 from the charity stripe.
The season certainly has taken a turn for the Huskies, whether it be for the better of worse is left to be seen.
They say adversity brings people together.
We’ll see how this groups handles a heavy dose of just that.
NOTES: Vital and Steven Enoch made their first starts on Wednesday night as Ollie put together another starting line-up one of many he has tinkered with so far this year.
It’s been a crazy week for UConn, losing Alterique Gilbert, Terry Larrier and Mamadou Diarra for the year, the first two to season ending surgeries, the third to a condition that will force him to red shirt this year.
Even the warm up lines were short for UConn. The team added another player to the mix for Wednesday as they added freshman Omotayo Aiyebusi to the roster.
The Huskies travel to New York City to take on rival Syracuse at Madison Square Garden on Monday night. Mr. Gaffney and Mr. Tiscia will be making the trip to the Big Apple.
A trip to Ohio State is next on Saturday, December 10.
Mustapha Heron and Auburn come to the XL on Friday, December 23 to take on the Huskies, another must see.