For the first time since 1999, the UConn men’s basketball team lost their home opener, dropping a sloppy 67-58 contest against Wagner on Friday night.
While sophomore Terry Larrier had 19 points and freshman Alterique Gilbert impressed with 14, it wasn’t enough to carry the team. Redshirt senior Rodney Purvis only had five points, going 2-for-7 from the floor, and 1-for-5 from three-point range, including some critical misses in the second half when the Huskies had fought back to tie the game.
“I can’t put my finger on it. Rodney really, really struggled. Four turnovers, no good looks. Jalen [Adams] struggled. It’s hard to win when you have your two top guards go 6-for-22 and struggle getting good looks,” head coach Kevin Ollie said. “We aren’t going to have answers until we start picking up on defense.”
UConn only led at one point during the game, and that was the very first basket of the game—an alley-oop to Amida Brimah, as only a UConn game could start.
As soon as the Huskies got on the board, Wagner responded with a layup and, after a missed three from Terry Larrier, netted a jumper to take their first lead of the game. The Seahawks would never look back.
A glance at the stat sheets may indicate that the game was close, but that was not the case. The Huskies were out-rebounded 37-33 and had a 12-11 edge in offensive rebounds, but Wagner was able to convert nine defensive and four offensive rebounds into baskets for a total of 25 points. UConn only converted four offensive and four defensive rebounds into points.
UConn’s field goal percentage was grossly low, shooting only 35.7 percent over the course of the game, although Wagner only shot 37.7 percent. Both teams performed poorly in the second half, but UConn’s almost nonexistent offense prevented them from capitalizing.
Though the shots were not there, sophomore Jalen Adams said that the first step to building a strong offense is having a cohesive defense.
“I know, one hundred percent, that if we play defense, we’ll let that create our offense. If we get stops and rebound the ball, we’ll definitely be able to get on a fast break and score. When we get those easy fast break points, then we’ll start making jump shots. I think we did a poor job defensively,” Adams said.
Wagner started the game on an 11-4 run, and made as soon as the Huskies narrowed the gap, the Seahawks would hit a big shot to push the score further out of reach. When UConn got the score to 7-4, Wagner scored six points in a row. When UConn got the game to 16-11, they scored five points to make the score 21-13.
The narrative would stick for the entire game, as the Huskies just couldn’t close the gap. They never once tied the game until there was six minutes left in the second half.
A series of Wagner miscues opened the door for the Huskies to take the lead, but a missed foul shot from Larrier prevented the Huskies from taking their second lead of the night. As soon as the Seahawks got the rebound, Wagner’s redshirt junior Marquis Salmon hit his only shot of the night, a three-pointer that served as a microcosm of the game as a whole—as soon as UConn got close, Wagner hit a big shot to put it out of reach.
“This is an eye-opener for us. We’re definitely going to take it as a learning experience and get better from it,” Gilbert said. “Ball movement [is key]. Just getting everybody the ball. Moving the ball around from one side to the other side. You know, just making shots.”
The game painfully showcased all of UConn’s greatest flaws: loose defense, the inability to adequately rebound on both ends, and their tendency to start out slow. Only this time, there was no big second half to save them.
UConn’s two most important guards, Adams and Purvis, greatly underperformed. Jalen went 4-for-15 from the floor and only 1-for-3 from behind the arc, giving the two a combined field goal percentage of 27 percent.
The Huskies have a lot of hurdles to clear, as most of the players on the court have little experience playing with one another. Once they learn how to share the basketball better and work as a more cohesive unit, Ollie said, they will start to see improvement.
“You can do the technical stuff, but when it comes down to it, you gotta have a will to get the basketball,” Ollie said. “The lack of communication, a breakdown here and there, leads to a loss. Our guys will learn from it, and I’ll learn from it.”
The Huskies will have a quick turnaround, as they will have two days of practice and then host Northeastern at Gampel Pavilion at 7 p.m. If UConn wishes to see success, they will have to tighten up their defense and take better, more precise shots in order to come out of the gate strong.