HARTFORD – There’s bad basketball, and then there’s whatever occurred between UConn and Boston University Wednesday at the XL Center in Hartford. The Huskies and the Terriers played 40 lifeless minutes, combining to shoot 35-for-111 from the field while turning the ball over 29 times. It was an absolute slog.
Someone needed to step up for UConn to avoid suffering yet another bad home loss, and with usual suspects Jalen Adams and Rodney Purvis failing to find their respective shooting strokes, that ended up being an unlikely candidate: freshman guard Christian Vital.
Vital, who started for the first time in his young career, led the Huskies with 13 points on 4-for-7 shooting while providing plenty of defensive energy as UConn escaped with a 51-49 victory.
“It was definitely a great win to get because it was our first home win, and hopefully this could be the start of a long winning streak for us,” Vital said after the game.
With freshman guard Alterique Gilbert out for the season with a torn labrum, many of UConn’s backcourt minutes are up for grabs, and Vital made his case Tuesday, bringing excellent energy in his 36 minutes on the court. He added two steals to his team-leading scoring total, as UConn helped overcome their offensive failings by forcing BU into 16 turnovers. They also held the Terriers, a typically strong 3-point shooting team, to a 3-for-19 mark from behind the arc.
“There was definitely an emphasis on the defensive end to close out strong and not allow them to shoot threes, and I think we did a pretty good job of that,” Vital said.
Vital didn’t put on a tremendous offensive display, but on a night when only the Terriers’ Eric Fanning could seem to get his shot to fall consistently (21 points on 7-for-11 shooting), his four field goals were enough to tie for the team lead with forward Kentan Facey. Three of those makes came from long range, helping to buoy the Huskies during multiple stretches of absolutely desolate offensive production.
“[Vital] made some good shots, some three-point shots for us, that we needed, to kind of give us a little cushion there. So, I was very proud of his effort also,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said.
Nights like these will be necessary from the three (out of five) UConn freshmen that remain healthy, as both Gilbert and forward Mamadou Diarra will sit out for the remainder of the season. The Huskies’ upperclassmen, including Purvis, Facey and center Amida Brimah have proven to be inconsistent so far, and if they fail to produce on slow nights for lead scorer Adams, a younger player may have to step up and provide a boost.
Vital stepped up Tuesday in a big way, and he’s looking to continue that play and shed the usual expectations as he continues to be relied upon in this trying season for UConn.
“I just want to be solid, you know. I don’t want that freshman tag to be around my name. I don’t want people to say, oh, I turned it over one minute. Some people may say he needs to be more solid. Other people may try to cover it up for me, say ‘Oh, he’s a freshman, he’s learning.’ I want to take that second part out of there and be solid as a senior, or junior, or upperclassman, and be able to help our team,” Vital said.