It wasn’t the easiest or prettiest win of the season, but the UConn men’s basketball team were able to win their conference opening game for the first time in their American Athletic Conference tenure.
Guard Rodney Purvis led the way with 20 points as the Huskies survived a second half onslaught from Tulane to come away with a 75-67 victory.
It was UConn’s first victory in an American conference opener. In 2013, they were lost at Houston and a year ago they dropped a home game to Temple.
Sterling Gibbs played maybe his best all around game, finish with 16 points, 7 assists, and 8 rebounds. Gibbs, who finished second in the Big East last year in three point shooting percentage, went 4/6 from three point range. Down the stretch, he made two huge threes that stabilized the Huskies.
The game got off to a competitive start down in New Orleans. Graduate transfer Shonn Miller scored the first five points for UConn. He finished with 12 points before fouling out in the second half. Tulane matched the Huskies for the first 12 minutes, holding a 16-14 lead with 8:23 left in the half.
UConn head coach Kevin Ollie sensed the team needed a boost and tabbed guard Omar Calhoun off the bench. The senior immediately changed the energy, knocking down a three then forced a live ball turnover that he converted into a layup. The Huskies went on to finish the first half on a 24-12 run, to lead 38-28.
They picked right up where they left when the second half began. In the first four minutes of the second half, UConn went on a 13-4 run, extending their lead to 19.
Then, the Green Wave grew in stature. With help of a liberal whistle, Tulane went on a game changing 26-8, cutting their deficit to one. In what was shaping up to be a blowout, a nail biter broke out. With 4:08 left Purvis committed a foul that sent Louis Dabney to the line. He made them both to give Tulane a 60-59 lead.
Thankfully, Gibbs, the fifth year graduate transfer, was there in a big way. His three pointer following Dabney’s three pointer put UConn back in front, where they stayed for the rest of the game. After falling behind, the Huskies closed the game on a 16-7 run.
As the Huskies get used to life without Amida Brimah, it is imperative they find a way to defend the rim without fouling. Ollie will surely not be pleased that the three big guys expected to pick up Brimah’s slack, Miller, Kentan Facey and Steven Enoch, all fouled out.
Daniel Hamilton added 19 points, despite a mediocre shooting night. He made nine of his 10 free throw attempts.
Although it wasn’t the runaway they expected, UConn got a much needed conference opening victory. The Huskies return home for a date with Temple on January 5th at the XL Center.