Desperate for a bounce-back after a disappointing showing against Syracuse Tuesday, the UConn men’s basketball team didn’t do themselves any favors, beating Coppin State, the third worst team in the country, 72-59 at Gampel Pavilion.
In front of a crowd of 3,046 who trekked through the snow to be there, the Huskies immediately found themselves down 8-0 in the first two minutes. Though they quickly bounced back and tied the game at 11 apiece and soon took the lead for good, UConn (7-3) never really pulled away from the Eagles (0-10).
The Huskies’ offensive woes continued. They shot 37.1 percent from the field, 33.3 percent from beyond the arc and 76 percent from the free throw line. Cincinnati—who UConn would ostensibly like to compete with for the AAC title—beat Coppin State by 43 points. East Carolina beat them by 26.
“It’s been taking time,” Christian Vital, who finished with 13 points, said about the lack of cohesion on offense. “Sooner rather than later, that time is going to have to come.”
Mamadou Diarra and Eric Cobb both started the game for UConn, but quickly went to the bench after UConn head coach Kevin Ollie didn’t like what he was seeing. The duo only logged 16 combined minutes after Cobb’s promising play at MSG on Tuesday.
The defense, something Ollie has been harping on since the Michigan State game, continued to look half-awake. The Eagles, who entered the game shooting 25.7 percent on 3-pointers, sunk half their attempts in the first half, going 7-for-14. Lamar Morgan, who entered the game averaging 5.3 points per game and had never scored more than eight points, finished with 30, a career-high. He shot 8-for-12 from the floor and 7-for-11 from 3-point range.
“It started with our one-on-one defense. We’re not keeping our man in front of us. We collapse, and then they find Morgan, and we leave Morgan to cover a guy who is not shooting as well as him,” Ollie said. “We can’t allow guys to get their career high against us, and that’s the second or third game in a row guys have gotten their career highs against us.”
“The teams that we’re about to play, they’re not going to allow us to get away with those moments where we have dead moments out there, you know, having 3-5 minute spurts where we’re not defending and we’re not scoring,” Vital added.
Dead moments were everywhere on Saturday. After allowing Coppin State to tie the game three separate times in the first 10 minutes, UConn looked like they were starting to pull away when a steal by Isaiah Whaley led to an Antwoine Anderson layup to put the Huskies up 12 with 5:44 to go.
But the Eagles didn’t stop fighting. UConn went 1-for-10 with two turnovers in the final five minutes, and Coppin State closed the gap to 36-31 to end the half, their lowest halftime deficit all season.
“It was a game we were confident coming into,” Coppin State head coach Juan Dixon said. “We showed everyone that we want to compete for 40 minutes.”
Compete they did, and UConn never really pulled it together enough to go on a run. The Huskies had 15 turnovers, with 11 of them coming in the first half. It’s not hard-pressing defense causing the turnovers either—it’s just small mistakes.
“They wasn’t pressing, they wasn’t over-playing, and we get 15 turnovers, and I just want our guys to have poise,” Ollie said.
The Huskies opened up the second half by missing their first three shots until Terry Larrier, who finished with 14 but didn’t start due to a “team matter,” sunk a jumper two minutes in. UConn’s lead never got over 13, and the first three times the Huskies got their lead up to double digits, Coppin State immediately hit a shot to bring it back to single digits.
“I think we just gotta do a better job with our one-on-one defense,” Jalen Adams, who led all UConn scorers with 15 points and eight assists, said. “If we don’t stop the ball, then we won’t get into rotations.”
The Huskies were able to take away a few positives, though—after getting beat up by Syracuse on the glass, they out-rebounded the Eagles 50-26. Isaiah Whaley, getting significant action for the first time since getting his wisdom teeth pulled, had eight points and eight rebounds. And they’re still undefeated at home with a 7-3 record.
“We don’t feel bad about ourselves or anything,” Adams said. “We just know we can’t play down to our competition. We know what we’re getting ourselves into. When we get to Arizona after the break, we’ve got to step it up a notch."
“It’s a long season,” Vital added. “We are going to get better from that, we are going to learn how to start off the right way.”