ORLANDO, Fla. — With so many questions surrounding the UConn men’s basketball team’s NCAA tournament hopes, Friday’s game against Cincinnati was almost do or die for the Huskies. It was for the Bearcats, too.
It was the third matchup of the season between UConn and Cincinnati, and the previous two were won by the Bearcats and decided by a combined six points. The Huskies and Bearcats have put together some memorable, hard fought games in their 20-game history. But what happened Friday trumped them all.
UConn defeated Cincinnati in four overtimes, 104-97, to advance to the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference tournament in front of 7,457 at the Amway Center. It was the longest game in the history of the American Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Championship.
“That was an unbelievable game,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said.
The game looked to be over after Cincinnati’s Kevin Johnson made a three-pointer in the third overtime to put the Bearcats up 88-85 with 0.8 seconds left. All the Cincinnati players were celebrating like they had won.
After Johnson’s shot went in, Daniel Hamilton and Jalen Adams both looked at each other. Both wanted the other person to inbound the ball, but Hamilton finally passed it into Adams.
Adams gathered the pass from Hamilton, took two steps and fired a shot in from 70-plus feet from the basket to send the game to a fourth overtime.
“The least I could do was get a shot up,” Adams said. “So Daniel passed me the ball, nobody was in front of me, so I shot the ball as quick as I could and I watched the ball go in. It was just amazing.”
Jalen Adams celebrates with Mike Noyes after hitting a 70-plus foot buzzer beater with 0.8 seconds left to send Friday’s game to a fourth overtime. The @uconnmbb point guard finished with a career-high 22 points as UConn defeated Cincinnati 104-97 in the quarterfinals of the @american_conf tournament in Orlando. (@ashleymaher12/The Daily Campus) #TheyGrowUpSoFast
Ollie added: “That’s legendary stuff to make that shot at that time and just keep performing.”
It wasn’t the first big shot that Adams made, though. In the second overtime, Cincinnati’s Troy Caupain put the Bearcats up 75-73 with a runner in the lane with 14 seconds left. Adams then went coast-to-coast and made a tough layup to tie the game at 75.
Adams finished with a career-high 22 points and eight rebounds, making some key baskets for the Huskies in the overtimes.
“Yeah, he just grew up,” Ollie said. “He just started playing basketball.”
So how did it get that far?
After a lackluster first-half performance by the Huskies, Cincinnati led by nine points at the break. The Bearcats scored eight points off turnovers and had 11 second-chance points. UConn shot 36 percent. Cincinnati led by as many as 13 in the first half.
But UConn (22-10) woke up in the second half. It all started with an alley-oop, finished by Shonn Miller off a pass from Hamilton. Sterling Gibbs made two consecutive threes to cut the lead to 35-38, causing Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin to call a timeout.
The Huskies would get its first lead of the game since it was 4-2 after Hamilton made a jumper. UConn would open the half on a 22-9 run to grab a 49-45 lead.
The second half was completely different than the first half. UConn was making shots and they were defending much better. Cincinnati made just three of their first 11 shots of the half.
“We just stuck together,” Ollie said. “There’s no magical speeches at this time. Players make plays and they started making plays. We had a good game plan coming in and our defense stayed packed.”
Miller picked up two early fouls in the first half and only played three minutes. He scored 10 points in the second half to get the Huskies back in the game, including eight in a row at one point. He would foul out in the second overtime.
Cincinnati (22-10) finished regulation on a 9-2 run and Caupain made two free throws with 35 seconds remaining to send the game to overtime.
UConn had a chance to win it during the first overtime, but Gibbs missed a tough shot in the lane.
Cincinnati led by four in the second overtime but thanks to two buckets by Amida Brimah and Adams’ layup in traffic, the game went on.
Caupain finished with a career-high 37 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in 56 minutes. He made some incredibly tough shots down the stretch for the Bearcats.
Cincinnati had five players score in double figures. Farad Cobb scored 14, Octavius Ellis had 13, Gary Clark had 12 and Coreontae DeBerry finished with 10. As a team, the Bearcats shot 38 percent from the field.
But as big as Caupain was for Cincinnati, Hamilton and Adams were just as clutch for UConn.
Hamilton finished with a career-high 32 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. Whether it was scoring or setting his teammates up, Hamilton showed up for the Huskies.
“When I just got in the zone, I just wanted to come out and make plays,” Hamilton said. “Because I know how that feeling was last year of not making the tournament and stuff like that. So, it was real sad. So I just wanted to come out and make plays and win the game, basically.”
He did just that, and the Huskies live to see another day. UConn will face the top-seeded Temple Owls Saturday at 3 p.m. in the semifinals. Temple beat USF 79-62 in the quarterfinals.
Rodney Purvis, who started the game for the first time since Jan. 14, scored 14 points, Gibbs added 14 and Brimah finished with 10.
“After every time out we were telling our guys to keep fighting and keep throwing punches and that’s what they did,” Ollie said. “A lot of people questioned our heart throughout the season and you can’t question it no more. There’s a lot of people who’s written us off but we’re still breathing, we’re still ticking.”