The UConn men’s basketball team will look to build on their first winning streak of the 2016-17 season Saturday evening as they face Ohio State at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio. The match-up represents the second half of a non-conference scheduling agreement that began last season with a 75-55 UConn win over the Buckeyes on Dec. 12 at Gampel Pavilion.
The Huskies (4-4) gave their frustrating 2016-17 season a potential shot in the arm with a 52-50 win over former conference rival Syracuse at Madison Square Garden on Monday night in New York City. UConn fell behind the Orange by as many as 11 points in the second half, but rallied back on the strength of superb defense to pull out a win on a night they shot just 31.4 percent from the field. Freshman guard Christian Vital hit the game-winning free throws with 2.2 seconds remaining.
“I’ll take this win no matter what we shot from the field. We played solid defense, it was another of these epic UConn-Syracuse matchups,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said after Monday’s win.
The victory, coming in front of a raucous neutral-court crowd that alternated deafening cheers for UConn and Syracuse, may prove crucial for these Huskies down the stretch. They have already furnished their postseason résumé with two bad home losses, to Wagner and Northeastern, and failed to pick up any power-conference wins on their three-game trip to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational.
The win over Syracuse provides one of those elusive wins, although the Orange dropped out of the AP Top 25 rankings on Monday morning, and Ohio State provides another opportunity for UConn to secure a crucial win.
The Buckeyes (7-2) are coming off a shocking 79-77 home loss Tuesday to Florida Atlantic, a Conference USA opponent that entered the game with a 2-5 record. Ohio State’s other notable result of the young season came on Nov. 30, when they lost a 63-61 decision at Virginia.
Ohio State averages 75.8 points per game so far this season, which is good for sixth in the Big Ten Conference. The Buckeyes attempt 19.6 three-pointers per game, making 7.1 of them.
Forward Jae’Sean Tate leads Ohio State in scoring with 14.0 points per game, on a 57.5 percent shooting mark, while five other Buckeyes are averaging double digits in scoring. Tate also leads the team with 7.8 rebounds per game, while guard JaQuan Lyle leads the team with 5.8 assists per game.
UConn enters Saturday off their win over Syracuse, which followed up a 51-49 win over Boston University on Nov. 30. Despite strong defensive performances, the Huskies’ offense struggled tremendously to hit shots in both wins, especially from behind the arc.
The Huskies will attack the Buckeyes’ defense with guards Jalen Adams and Rodney Purvis, who combine to average 30.3 points per game. Purvis was hugely important in pushing UConn past Syracuse, scoring 21 points on 6-for-15 shooting, including a 5-for-12 mark from downtown.
UConn and Ohio State will tip off at 6 p.m. Saturday in Columbus, Ohio.
Tyler Keating is associate sports editor for The Daily Campus, covering football and men’s basketball. He can be reached via email at email@example.com. He tweets @tylerskeating.