HARTFORD — In an inter-conference rivalry game with the man he’s most often compared to in attendance, Thursday night was an ideal time for a breakout performance for Jalen Adams.
He lived up to the opportunity at hand.
In the fourth start of his career and with Shabazz Napier behind the bench, Adams provided nearly enough offense during UConn’s 58-57 loss to Cincinnati.
Adams, a freshman, scored 11 points on 4-7 shooting, including a layup with 1:44 left to give UConn a 57-53 lead. It was the last basket the Huskies scored.
In the final sequence of the game, Adams had a chance to win the game, but missed a prayer well past the three-point line.
“Sterling (Gibbs) made a good move, got to the basket. He missed. Shonn (Miller) got the offensive rebound. I thought Shonn got fouled, but the ball ended up rolling out. I picked it up, saw there was one second left and shot the three. I thought it was going in. I wish it did,” Adams said.
Adams and Napier will forever hold a bond. Both are undersized, scoring point guards that hail from the same hometown, Roxbury, Massachusetts. Napier, now with the Orlando Magic, was in attendance at the XL Center. The Magic take on the Boston Celtics tomorrow evening.
Napier, a two time national champion for the Huskies (14-6, 4-3 American), has a well-established reputation as one of the most clutch players in the history of college basketball. His presence in the arena set the stage perfectly for magic to happen. But that script would have been too perfect.
“For some weird reason, I thought I was going to get an offensive put-back or something,” Adams said, describing his thoughts on the end of game sequence.
For much of the game, Adams played beyond his own experience. He made three tough layups, something his more experienced teammates could not say. To do that in front of a hostile XL Center crowd, against one of the toughest teams in the conference, says a lot about Adams’ potential.
“We knew the crowd was going to be there, it’s a big game. Our crowd is always there to support us. Just watching film on Cincinnati, from last year in the (American Athletic Conference) tournament, they’re a tough team, they’re known as a tough team so we knew it was going to be a battle, that it was going to come down to the last possession,” Adams said.
It wasn’t a perfect evening for Adams. He had a freshmen mental error at a critical time. With 1:04 left and UConn holding a 57-53 lead, Adams committed a live ball turnover, resulting in a transition layup for Jacob Evans.
“I saw (Daniel Hamilton) flash into the four hole, I tried to sneak it behind him, but he ended up stealing the ball,” Adams said.
That moment turned out to be a momentum swing for the Bearcats.
“I didn’t like the turnover when we were up four. That’s a live turnover that leads to a layup so that’s a crucial play in the game,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said. “If you’re going to be out there, you have to take care of the ball, especially in situations like that. It leads to a layup. Other than that, he played really good.”
There were positives and negatives to Adams performance against Cincinnati (16-6, 6-3 American). At times, he looked like the next Shabazz, the player he was brought in to replace.
At a crucial moment, he looked like an overmatched freshmen.
But the fact remains, for the foreseeable future, Jalen Adams is going to be a key player in deciding the fate for UConn in crunch time.