Slow start dooms UConn at MSG
NEW YORK – Staggering around with little hope left, one play summed up UConn’s 72-63 loss to Syracuse at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night.
As the Orange’s Matthew Moyer drove to the hoop with 12 minutes left, David Onuorah hip checked his own teammate Jalen Adams into Moyer for a foul. The play was so awkward that it was even reviewed to see if it was a flagrant foul.
UConn, simply, could not get out of its own way. Another slow start doomed the Huskies, who fell behind by as much as 17 points. This is not a vintage Syracuse team, but it’s also not Columbia or Monmouth, teams that the Huskies barely survived against last week.
“Once again we just dug ourselves too big of a hole,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “We didn’t come out with the defensive effort from the first half. I thought in the second half we started getting stops, we got back in the game, but it was a little bit too late.”
The Huskies appeared timid to attack Syracuse’s zone, swinging the ball side-to-side and not driving until late in the shot clock. Adams and Christian Vital were more aggressive in the second half and helped bring the deficit into single digits, but this game was hardly in doubt.
“It’s like we have never seen a zone before,” lamented Ollie, whose team has seen zone defense thrown its way this season.
With Alterique Gilbert out indefinitely, the Huskies are using only three guards in Adams, Vital, and Antwoine Anderson, and their lack of perimeter depth on the bench is a big problem. Adams (22 points on 8-of-13 shooting) and Vital (17 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) played well, but other than Terry Larrier, UConn has no jump-shooting options, which allowed Syracuse to pack its zone even deeper into the paint.
UConn’s frontline does not possess any offensive threats, and are very foul prone. Mamadou Diarra and Eric Cobb each fouled out, picking up their 10 fouls in a combined 34 minutes. The duo, along with Onuorah, Tyler Polley, and Josh Carlton, combined for only seven points.
“I think we have to be a lot smarter with the ball, take our time, and make the simple play,” said Adams, who helped shut down Frank Howard (1-of-10 shooting, 9 turnovers). “We got too excited in the first half and were reckless with the ball.”
Syracuse, now 7-1, was paced by Tyus Battle’s 22 points. Moyer (18 points, 8 rebounds) and Oshae Brissett (16 points, 10 rebounds) controlled the paint.
“It was fun coming here,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “They had a huge group of fans, and we had a huge group of fans. I don’t think any two schools are going to put more people in the Garden than what we put in there tonight.”
While it’s fun to take a ride down memory lane and think of the old Big East days, the present is most important right now for UConn.
The Huskies need to get out of the malaise they’ve been in for two seasons now. One minute they’re up (the win over Oregon), the next they can’t get out of their own way (the escapes against Columbia and Monmouth), and then there’s just ugliness (the 35-point by Arkansas).
This loss to Syracuse covered all of those grounds.
In the first game of the Jimmy V Classic, Villanova showed why it’s ranked fourth in the country, wiping away Gonzaga, 88-72. Villanova’s level of play was a reminder of how far UConn needs to go. The Huskies will see that up close again later in the season when the teams meet in Hartford.
Right now, barring an epic disaster, UConn will be 7-3 after playing Coppin State. Then the schedule gets tough, with Arizona, Auburn, and Wichita State on the horizon.
If the Huskies plan on making this a successful season, they need to get out of their own way - sooner than later.