HARTFORD — Coming into Sunday’s game, UMass-Lowell coach Pat Duquette knew that his team would have to keep No. 25 UConn out of the paint and make the Huskies score from the perimeter.
With a young team — consisting of eight freshman and just two seniors — and a significant height disadvantage, the River Hawks wouldn’t have a good shot to win if they allowed the Huskies to get inside the paint.
“Our goal going into the game was to try and prevent penetration and keep them out of the lane,” Duquette said. “We thought that that’s where they were most dangerous. I thought we did a good job with that, making them beat us from over the top and make three-point shots.”
And that’s exactly what UConn did.
The Huskies shot 64 percent from the field (9 of 17 on threes) and Rodney Purvis scored a season-high 28 points to lead UConn past UMass-Lowell 88-79 in front of 9,848 at the XL Center.
Along with Purvis, the Huskies had four other players score in double figures. Sterling Gibbs scored 15. Omar Calhoun added 14 for the second straight game. Daniel Hamilton had 12 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists and Shonn Miller scored 10.
Sunday was the second straight game in which UConn shot above 60 percent from the field (60.4 percent against Ohio State last weekend).
“Guys are just sharing the basketball,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “I really like our guys moving the basketball. Purv is really playing at a high level now, taking the ball to the rim, shooting it with confidence. So I just thought we moved the basketball well from side to side. [We] got some good looks inside and we were attacking the rim.”
UMass-Lowell, fresh off a loss against a then-winless Central Connecticut, came out with no fear.
“They certainly were excited to play UConn,” Duquette said.
At the first media timeout, the game was tied 13-13. UMass Lowell (4-7) then went on a 7-0 run to take a 20-13 lead, causing Ollie to call a timeout. The River Hawks made four threes in the first 7:43.
Ollie had was not happy at that timeout, really getting on his players in the huddle.
“He (Ollie) just told us we got to start stepping on guys’ necks and start playing tough,” Calhoun said. “We weren’t playing tough. We weren’t getting through screens and really just taking the challenge.”
Coming off an eight-day break for final exams, perhaps a slow start was predictable. But the Huskies woke up after that timeout.
UConn (7-3) went on a 13-5 run to regain the lead at 26-25.
Lowell’s Jahad Thomas scored on the team’s next possession to take the lead back 27-26, but a Gibbs’ three on UConn’s next possession would put them ahead for good.
Despite a shooting 81 percent in the first 12:52 of the game, the Huskies only led by three points. UMass-Lowell started shooting well, too (57 percent).
Gibbs scored 12 points in the first half, eight of which came in the last 8:08, which allowed UConn to take a 43-27 lead into halftime.
The River Hawks kept clawing into UConn’s lead in the second half. They cut it to 45-39 with 18:14 to play. They cut the Huskies’ lead to 72-63 with 5:17 left and they were as close as six at 81-75 with 1:27 left.
The River Hawks shot 46.7 percent (7 of 15) from three-point range in the second half, allowing them to keep the game close.
Purvis, who has scored in double figures every game this season, scored 18 of his 28 points in the second half, scoring big buckets for the Huskies when they needed them.
“I’m going to make some shots and miss some shots but the main thing is I just want to go out and play hard. My shot was falling today,” Purvis said.
Thomas scored 10 of his 19 points (8 of 9 shooting) in the second half. Josh Gantz, scored 13 points in the second half, including some big threes. He finished with 18 (7 of 16 shooting).
“I liked the way my team played,” Duquette said. “We didn’t play perfect. We made some mistakes, but we went up against a good basketball team. We shot the ball well.”
Lowell shot 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three, something that Ollie and the team were not pleased with after the game.
“That’s a great shooting team and luckily our shots were falling today and if they weren’t, we would have been in a dogfight because we couldn’t get stops defensively,” Purvis said.
Amida Brimah did not play Sunday due to a testicular contusion injury he sustained during the Ohio State game. His streak of 84 straight games played was snapped. Freshman Jalen Adams made his first collegiate start in Brimah’s place.
Without Brimah in the paint to block shots, the River Hawks scored 28 points in the paint.
UConn now plays Central Connecticut on Wednesday, and although the Huskies won Sunday, there were some definitive takeaways, especially on the defensive end, that UConn can work on between now and then.
When asked after the game what the Huskies need to work on defensively, Ollie responded by saying “everything.”