HARTFORD – The UConn men’s basketball team’s remarkable comeback win over Memphis Thursday night at the XL Center was a story of two halves, or more aptly, a story of two Jalen Adams’ halves.
After scoring just two points in the first half as Memphis outscored UConn 40-26, Adams dragged the Huskies out of the grave with a 17-point second half performance to a memorable 65-62 win in front of a raucous crowd of 9,631 at the XL Center.
“We’re never gonna give up,” Adams said after the game. “No matter how much we’re down at halftime. We don’t like being down, but if we’re down, it’s not foreign to us. We’ve been there. We’re definitely going to fight to come back.”
The star guard finished with 19 points and six assists as UConn leaped into fourth in the American Athletic Conference standings on the strength of their third-straight victory.
“Just a great second half by our guys,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said. “I’m so proud of this group, they’re resilient.”
Adams struggled to contribute in the first half, as he was continuously met at the rim by athletic Memphis defenders looking to fend his shot away. His problems were compounded by shooting struggles from fellow guards Rodney Purvis and Christian Vital, who entered Thursday on personal hot streaks.
Those problems added up to just a 33 percent shooting mark from the field for UConn in the first half, including a 2-for-12 mark from deep.
And to make matters worse, Adams took a pair of painful falls Thursday that left in him in noticeable pain – the first time, he limped up the floor, and the second, he stayed down on the ground for a moment. All that came on the heels off a rough week in which he missed practice with an illness.
“I was dealing with a little fever the whole week, wasn’t able to practice much, but our trainer James [Doran] did a good job of getting me the right medicine so I was able to play today,” Adams said.
Something changed at halftime.
“Usually Coach [Ollie] comes in there and he’s yelling at us, spazzing on us, but today he came in there with a lot of confidence and he told us, we’re gonna win this game, we just gotta limit them in transition, we just got to be more aggressive,” Adams said.
Adams followed through, with gusto, on the “aggressive” part. He torched Memphis from a variety of spots in the floor, including floaters, 3-point shots and a particularly twisty finish at the rim.
The Tigers answered many times with baskets of their own to hold the lead, but at last UConn broke through with 1:59 left as Adams gave them a 61-60 lead with a running floater.
The Huskies played tremendously stout defense down the stretch to back up Adams’ efforts, holding Memphis and star forward Dedric Lawson for a nearly five-minute stretch to close the game.
“Those last five minutes, that’s UConn basketball,” Ollie said.
None of it happens without Adams, who took the hits Thursday and just came coming like a zombie. If the Huskies are to make a run to the NCAA tournament late in this injury-plagued season, he will be an integral part of that run.
“We need him to stay aggressive,” Vital said. “If he’s passive, it kinds of hurts us. He did a great job tonight, he did what he is supposed to do, and helped us get this win.”