The UConn men’s basketball team followed up its disappointing opening day loss to Wagner with another miserable performance Monday night, as they lost 64-61 to CAA opponent Northeastern at Gampel Pavilion. With the loss, UConn dropped to 0-2 with a pair of home losses to mid-major competition.
“I didn’t ever imagine that we’d be 0-2 now. It happens, and I got to make adjustments as a coach,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said after the game.
Ollie changed his starting lineup after a very poor performance from his seniors against Wagner, replacing seniors Rodney Purvis and Kentan Facey with freshmen Alterique Gilbert and Vance Jackson, respectively.
UConn got out to an atrocious start on offense, missing 12 of their first 15 shots as Northeastern jumped out to a 15-4 lead about eight minutes into the half. UConn struggled to penetrate the Northeastern zone defense, and when they did, a variety of players failed to finish at the rim.
The UConn offense roared to life in transition shortly afterwards, using a couple of buckets from Jalen Adams to put together an 11-0 run and tie the game at 15 apiece. UConn moved the ball so much more fluidly in the fast break, compared to their stagnant look in the halfcourt.
On the defensive end, senior center Amida Brimah was a huge difference maker in the first half after a lackluster performance against Wagner, shutting down Northeastern attempts at the rim with four blocks. When he wasn’t turning back rim runs, Northeastern was firing from downtown, as they attempted 17 three-pointers in the first half and made five of them.
“Amida [Brimah] played terrific,” Ollie said. “He was blocking everything.”
UConn failed to ride that 11-0 run into any sort of lead, as the two teams traded buckets for the rest of the first half. Transfer forward Terry Larrier was crucial for UConn over the remainder of the half, hitting jump shots in isolation when the offense came to a standstill. Northeastern carried a 35-31 lead into the halftime break.
UConn opened the first half with some big offensive plays to ignite the Gampel Pavilion crowd, including some huge blocks from Brimah and a tremendous alley-oop finish from Larrier. They failed to support those plays with stops on defense, however, giving up open three-pointers to Northeastern shooters and allowing the road team to take a 49-44 lead with 11:44 remaining in the game.
UConn had a terrible night on the glass to compound their defensive problems, allowing 17 offensive rebounds. Forward Alex Murphy led Northeastern with 15 rebounds.
After that brief spurt to begin the half, the UConn offense returned to its stagnant self, failing to produce open shots and struggling to create chances in transition either. Northeastern misfired on plenty of open shots on the other end of the floor, allowing UConn to stay within two possessions for much of the second half even as they completely failed to generate any semblance of offensive rhythm.
“We got to get better shots. We got to get our guards in there, putting two guys in that space, kicking it out so we can get some shots in rhythm,” Ollie said. “Everybody’s trying to make this ten-point play and it just don’t work.”
Northeastern took a seven-point lead with 3:49 remaining on a thunderous breakaway dunk from Murphy, leaving UConn searching for answers in the waning moments. Northeastern made another crucial shot with 2:16 remaining, as Donnell Gresham hit an open three-pointer to quiet a raucous Gampel crowd and put his team back up by five points.
The last two minutes were slowed considerably by two lengthy replay reviews, eventually leading to two chances for UConn to tie the game with three-pointers, both of which were missed by Larrier. Larrier led the team with 17 points, shooting 7-for-16 from the field. Adams was the only other UConn player to finish in double digits, scoring 15 points on 7-for-13 shooting
On the final Northeastern possession, with UConn still trailing by three, Gilbert came up with a steal after heavy backcourt pressure, but missed a game-tying three-pointer as time expired.
At 0-2 now with a road trip out West looming, the pressure is on Ollie and company.
“We got to find some toughness somewhere, and we gon’ dig deep, and we gon’ find it. I’m not giving up on this season, and a lot of people probably already gave up on us, but we not gon’ give up on it,” Ollie said. “We got to figure it out, that’s the bottom line.”