Rough first half, Ollie's late technical leads to UConn's downfall at MSG
NEW YORK – The night was a mess for UConn, and it was caused by a litany of issues - most notably a horrid first half, a major struggle in the paint, and Kevin Ollie unable to find a fluid mix with his rotation.
And yet, the Huskies had life. Trailing No. 6 Maryland by just three after Daniel Hamilton hit a three-pointer with 2:44 left, they had a great opportunity to steal a vital out-of-conference win for their eventual postseason resume.
Following Hamilton’s three, though, Jalen Adams was called for a hand-check foul in the backcourt. Ollie did not like the call, and certainly made it known. He screamed at the official, then swiped a pile of stat sheets onto the floor, earning a technical foul.
Maryland’s calm, cool, and collected guard, Melo Trimble, made three of the four free throws to regain control and UConn was finished. The Terrapins prevailed, 76-66, before a split and loud gathering at a sold out Madison Square Garden.
With UConn trying to come back from a 16-point halftime hole, Ollie did not think his outburst affected the final outcome.
“No, I don’t think it changed it,” Ollie said. “I just hit the stand where the stats are, there were some stats there and my hand hit the stats. That’s why they probably called the tech. The only thing I did was slap (the table). I didn’t see the papers, and the papers fell on the ground. That was the only thing.”
It's impossible to say if Ollie's technical cost UConn the game, but it certainly didn’t help. Maryland (8-1), led by Trimble’s game-high 25 points (14-of-15 free throws), was able to regroup and cruise from there.
“The technical definitely helped us,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “It helped us stem the tide a little bit.”
For the fourth straight game, the Huskies, now 5-3, fell behind by double digits, with their largest deficit coming in at 20 with 4:54 remaining in the first half. UConn was able to overcome an overmatched Sacred Heart team at home last week, but dropped the two others against Syracuse and Gonzaga in the Bahamas.
Ollie lamented yet another slow start for his team, which has become a disturbing trend.
"The first 10 minutes was the tale of the whole game,” Ollie said. “Offensively and defensively, we were just off track. Once again, we get down 20 and try to come back. Like I say, that’s fool’s gold. We can’t get down by 20. It’s a pattern we have to stop.”
“We need to have a sense of urgency, we have to play like that from the beginning,” added Hamilton.
Maryland’s frontline pushed the Huskies around. Freshman Diamond Stone, who chose Maryland over UConn during his high school recruitment, had the best game of his young career, finishing with 16 points and nine rebounds. Maryland out-rebounded the Huskies 45-24, including 14-6 on offensive boards.
Meanwhile, UConn’s trio of Shonn Miller, Kentan Facey, and Phil Nolan only combined for four rebounds.
“They were tougher than us in every aspect,” Ollie simply said.
Hamilton entered the night averaging 12.6 points and 6.2 assists, and recorded a season-high 23 points. But he finished with only two assists, which incredibly tied for the team lead. When the Huskies are at their best, Hamilton is a distributor, but on this night, he had to look for his shot.
Miller, Sterling Gibbs, and Rodney Purvis all recorded 11 or 12 points, but lacked consistency. The Huskies hesitated on shots multiple times and had difficulty finding looks for each other. On paper, UConn has a talented team, but if this group is to make any noise this season, their offensive chemistry must improve.
The Huskies were in a similar spot last season after their trip to the New York area. They lost to Duke at the Meadowlands and faced a situation where they needed to dominate the AAC regular season or win the league tournament just to make the NCAA Tournament. They fell short and right into the NIT. Their best chances at picking up quality non-league wins have slipped away, with only Ohio State, Texas, and Georgetown (all unranked) left as notable non-AAC teams on their schedule.
“No one is going to feel sorry for us,” Ollie said. "This was a great opportunity for us and we let it slip away. We got to have passion from the start. Hopefully our guys have more purpose when we go out and play Ohio State on Saturday.”
UConn has several items it needs to clean up. Getting off to better starts is clearly Issue No. 1, and it needs to be fixed fast.