HARTFORD – UConn freshman Vance Jackson drew rave reviews during the recruiting process for his silky shooting stroke and his ability to hit shots from three-point range, and it took him just one (exhibition) game to show off those abilities as a Husky.
Jackson hit four of his six attempts from downtown to spark the UConn men’s basketball team to an 83-68 win over Division II opponent New Haven in their first exhibition game of the 2016-17 season Sunday at the XL Center. Three of those makes came in the midst of a 21-6 run that helped the Huskies pull away midway through the game’s second half, as Jackson erupted for 12 points over a four-minute stretch. He eventually finished with 15 points, a team-high, in just 20 minutes.
“He kind of broke the game open,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said of Jackson’s burst of hot shooting. “That’s what we’re going to need. I think he was the only one to make some threes tonight. We got to shoot a little better, but I like when the young fella steps up and knocks down those threes.”
Jackson was the only Husky to hit from long range on Sunday afternoon, as the rest of the team combined to go 0-for-9 from behind the arc. Jackson saw his first three-pointer go down midway through the first half, on a pass from point guard Jalen Adams.
“It felt good to see the first one go in, it’s like a confidence builder,” Jackson said of his first make, his first points in a UConn uniform.
Overall, the UConn offense did not play up to its potential in the first period, as they failed to generate easy shots against a stout New Haven defense. Everything flipped about seven minutes into the second half, as the Huskies forced misses, grabbed rebounds and broke out into transition. Jackson led the charge, along with Terry Larrier and Steven Enoch, as the Huskies made plays in transition to build a 72-51 lead with 7:40 remaining in the game.
Jackson found space by spotting up at the three-point line in transition.
“I’ll go to the basket first, but then if I see that three, I’m going to that three,” Jackson said of his thought process in transition.
His shooting breathed life into the Huskies, who played through bouts of sloppiness, particularly defensively, in their first game action of the season.
“The fans, they’re cheering, just ‘cause they see the young fella stepping up big,” Adams said. “So, when he makes those big threes, that fires us up and helps us on defense.”
Jackson had the hot hand Sunday, but there are other potential sharpshooters on this Huskies team, which will need to find new sources of three-point production after the departure of key snipers Sterling Gibbs and Daniel Hamilton from last year’s team.
With a UConn team that plays with energy and emotion, and loves to open up the floor, shooting could be the engine that makes everything run, and Jackson looks to be an extremely crucial cog in that engine.
“When [Jackson’s] shooting well, and Terry [Larrier’s] shooting well, and Rodney [Purvis], a lot of teams are going to have to press up on us, and we’ll be able to get to the basket, and get to the free throw line, and get easy dunks and layups,” Adams said.