The UConn men’s basketball team doesn’t have the firepower. They just don’t. They entered Friday’s home tilt against Auburn, an eventual 70-67 loss, with just eight rotation players, and lost their very best when guard Jalen Adams suffered a concussion with 13:13 remaining in the second half.
But they didn’t quit, grinding out points despite a 4-for-28 shooting night from three-point range, and maintaining their defensive composure down the stretch as they tried to hang with the Tigers. That all culminated in an improbable comeback at the end of the second half, as UConn overcame a six-point deficit with 1:20 remaining to force overtime in front of a raucous home crowd.
“We battled really hard. I think the last three minutes we held [Auburn] without scoring and then our guys responded with three straight baskets,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said after the game.
The Huskies grabbed a three-point lead with 1:21 remaining in the overtime period, but surrendered a pair of baskets and missed a trio of three-pointers as they fell 70-67.
When Adams went down, the Huskies were shooting 2-for-14 from long range, and they fired up even more in his absence, finishing 2-for-14 from behind the arc the rest of the way. UConn was down to just two guards, Rodney Purvis and Christian Vital, and Purvis was forced to step in as impromptu point guard without Adams.
“I just tried to run the team. That’s it, really. That’s why, like in practice and some stuff I run the point sometimes, because you never know what may happen. I was just trying to be prepared,” Purvis said of playing point guard.
Purvis forced up plenty of shots, finishing 5-for-22 from the field (1-for-13 on three-pointers), while Vital and forward Vance Jackson combined to go 2-for-13 from three-point range.
Instead, the Huskies found offense down low, as Kentan Facey and Amida Brimah both hit a pair of huge baskets during the 6-0 run in the final minute. Facey finished with 15 points, as well as career-high 14 rebounds.
They fought hard, but in the end, they did not win, and that closing ability is a pressing matter with American Athletic Conference play looming just over the horizon. Ollie stressed that UConn must come back from holiday break and execute. With such a depleted roster, that will be difficult, but the players aren’t making any excuses.
“We just believe we could win,” Facey said. “We just need to find ways to get to that point where we’re pulling games out. I mean, we were down a lot of guys, we know that already. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves, we just got to get out there, try to be tough and try to win the games.”
Hometown Heron plays long enough to become the villain
Auburn freshman Mustapha Heron, a Waterbury, Conn. native, returned to his home state this week for a pair of games, and after posting 15 points and 12 rebounds in a 74-70 win over Oklahoma Wednesday at Mohegan Sun Arena, the star guard overcame a poor shooting night to help lead the depleted Tigers to a win over UConn Friday in Hartford.
Heron finished with 15 points on 5-for-22 shooting, while adding eight rebounds as Auburn escaped with a win. He also hit a crucial free throw in overtime.
“I came here a lot as a kid, watching UConn games and concerts and things like that, so it was exciting,” Heron said of playing at the XL Center in a game to which he secured more than 200 tickets for friends and family, according to Auburn. “It was definitely better to be able to leave with a [win].”
Heron, a five-star recruit from the class of 2016, attended Sacred Heart High School in Waterbury, made it exceedingly clear during the recruiting process that he did not want to stay and play at home. Instead he migrated south to compete for the Tigers in the SEC, and he is off to a fast start in his freshman year.
Heron entered Friday leading Auburn with 16.0 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, numbers good enough for sixth-best and eighth-best in the SEC, respectively. He was the first five-star signee in the history of Auburn men’s basketball.
Mr. Hamidou, where are you?
UConn’s pursuit of Hamidou Diallo, consensus top-12 recruit from the class of 2017, kicked into overdrive this week as Diallo received immediate eligibility from the NCAA to play this season, and followed by making his first official visit to UConn Thursday.
Diallo continued his visit Friday as he was in attendance behind the UConn bench. Speculation remains over whether he will play college basketball this season, and which school he will choose to attend, as Kentucky remains firmly in contention, according to the Hartford Courant.
Should Diallo choose to attend UConn this season, he would immediately become an integral part of a UConn roster that received another injury blow Friday with Adams’ departure. He’s considered by scouts to be an athletic guard that can get to the rim and create his own shot, traits sorely needed by the Huskies.