HARTFORD – The UConn men’s basketball team needed overtime at Gampel Pavilion Wednesday to defeat Columbia, and they found themselves in a similar position Saturday against Monmouth at the XL Center.
The Huskies (6-2) overcame a four-point deficit with 1:59 left in overtime to avoid a devastating loss and bring some momentum into Tuesday’s clash with Syracuse at Madison Square Garden. Jalen Adams led UConn with 31 points in an 84-81 win, while Micah Seaborn powered Monmouth with 27, including 20 in the first half.
“I’ll take the win, but I’m still not satisfied with how we’re getting there,” said UConn head coach Kevin Ollie after the game. “When we get up, [we need to] have a killer mindset, and I think it starts with us going back, playing ‘do me’ basketball, not sharing the basketball, and then we take bad shots and we don’t play defense. That’s one thing that has to get better.”
Adams was the key offensive piece, but it was Christian Vital that again came through in the clutch, scoring six points in the final two minutes and icing the game at the line.
“CV is just tough. We’re down four [late in the game], he puts his head down, gets the and-one,” Ollie said.
The Huskies came out of the gate with much more energy and determination than they showed against Monmouth, although the Hawks hung very close in the opening minutes by making tough jump shots. Adams looked for his shot more actively after scoring just two points in the first half against Columbia, scoring 15 before the break against Monmouth.
“I’m trying to put Jalen in space. He’s great off the pick-and-rolls, everybody knows that. We’re trying to run some action early in the game to get our guys moving,” Ollie said.
The best scoring guard in the first half was not Adams, but Seaborn, who shot into action after the Huskies took a 29-20 lead. Seaborn scored 17 of his points over a six-minute span, which combined with a putrid stretch of UConn shooting to give Monmouth a 42-36 lead at the break, and it could have been more if Adams didn’t hit a wild 3-point attempt at the buzzer.
With Seaborn on fire, several UConn players called on graduate transfer Antwoine Anderson to lock him up in the locker room, according to several players after the game. Anderson answered the call, keeping Seaborn to just seven points in the second half and overtime.
“I just denied him the ball, didn’t let him get any touches. He came off with a good start at the beginning of the game,” Anderson said.
Vital had high praise for Anderson’s effort.
“He was the reason why I feel like we won the game. He could have easily just said ‘I’m tired.’ He played the whole game. He could have easily just let [Seaborn] score, and the fact that he didn’t, and the fact that we were able to get stops and just score after that, was really big on his part,” Vital said.
However, stopping Seaborn wasn’t nearly enough to bring down the Hawks, who responded after UConn fought back to take a seven-point lead halfway through the second half. Monmouth went on a 13-2 run to seize control of the game and leave the XL Center shocked at the sight of the Huskies struggling to bring down a low-major opponent.
The teams traded shots down the stretch, and Adams had a chance to put UConn up one with 33 seconds left at the line but only hit one of two. Monmouth couldn’t score on their ensuing possession, and Adams’ fling at the buzzer clanked off the rim to force overtime.
The Huskies scored the first two points of OT and Monmouth scored the next six, putting UConn in a four-point hole with two minutes left. That’s when Vital made his move, going 4-for-5 from the line to seal the game as Adams hit the go-ahead shot.
“I know I’m going to be out there at the end of games, so if I know I’m going to be out there I need to be able to be efficient. Especially from the line if they’re fouling. So I’m just glad as a team and myself that we’re making free throws right now,” Vital said.
Vital finished with 19 points (11-for-13 from the line), while Terry Larrier scored 16 and Anderson added 10.
Next, UConn meets an old rival as they take on Syracuse Tuesday night in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York City.