Men’s Basketball: Huskies falter in crunch time, drop road tilt to ECU

Pictured: Vance Jackson against SMU opponent.  UConn men's basketball lost to SMU on February 25, 2017. Key player Jalen Adams gets injured during the game. (Jason Jiang/ The Daily Campus)

The UConn men’s basketball team (14-15, 9-8 The American) fell 66-62 to American Athletic Conference rival East Carolina on the road Wednesday night. Senior Caleb White led the Pirates, who went 12-for-28 from 3-point range, with 28 points

The Huskies played without freshman guard Christian Vital, who suffered a concussion during practice on Monday. Starting guards Jalen Adams and Rodney Purvis were both dealing with injuries; Adams played through an ankle injury suffered Saturday against SMU and Purvis injured his finger in pregame shoot-around.

Adams, Purvis and Kentan Facey finished with 12 points each, with all three playing 40 minutes for head coach Kevin Ollie’s depleted squad.

East Carolina got off to a slow start in front of its home fans on Senior Night. The Huskies jumped out to an 11-5 advantage, with Adams connecting on a few shots. The sophomore guard was a game-time decision to play Wednesday and if he had been unable to go, UConn would have boasted just one scholarship guard in Purvis.

The Huskies extended their lead to 10 points with 6:33 left in the first half, partly helped by a personal 8-0 run from freshman Vance Jackson. Jackson sandwiched a pair of 3-pointers around a pull-up jumper.

From there, White began to heat up, scoring from various spots on the floor to help drag the Pirates back into it. Kentrell Barkley was also vital in helping East Carolina come back, as they cut the Huskies’ lead down to just 32-28 at the half.

A fast start from senior Amida Brimah pushed UConn’s lead back to eight points to open the second half, but the Pirates continued to hang in there.

With UConn up 43-38, East Carolina delivered the game’s defining run, scoring 14 consecutive points to take a nine-point advantage with 11 minutes left. Barkley hit a 3-pointer to cap the run, igniting the home crowd at Minges Coliseum.

The Huskies struck right back with a 10-0 run of their own, finished by a 4-point play from Purvis, who was playing in front of 115 friends and family members in his home state of North Carolina.

And then the Pirates scored the game’s next nine points to go up eight with 4:58 left. That lead wouldn’t last, as UConn continued the game of runs to come back and tie the score at 62 apiece with 1:38 left on another Purvis 3-pointer.

But Purvis was unable to play the role of hero in his home state, missing a wild 3-pointer down 65-62 with eight seconds left after the Pirates grabbed the lead with a trio of late free throws. East Carolina secured the rebound and a 66-62 win.

Purvis finished with 12 points on 3-for-15 shooting.

Wednesday’s loss will likely prove to be very damaging for the Huskies’ chances to win the American Athletic Conference Championship in Hartford next weekend. UConn would have had pole position to the No. 5 seed and a first-round bye if they won, but the loss takes their destiny out of their own hands, as current No. 6 seed Memphis and No. 7 Tulsa hold tie-breaker advantages over the Huskies.

Memphis and Tulsa are both 8-8 and each play SMU and Tulane. UConn is 9-8, with their only remaining game against conference titan Cincinnati. A win over the Bearcats would put UConn back in strong standing, as either Memphis or Tulsa would need to go 2-0 to finish above them.  

The Huskies will conclude their regular season schedule Sunday against Cincinnati at Gampel Pavilion. Sunday’s game will be Senior Day for Brimah, Purvis, Facey and Mike Noyes.


Tyler Keating is associate sports editor for The Daily Campus, covering men’s basketball. He can be reached via email at tyler.keating@uconn.edu. He tweets @tylerskeating.