HARTFORD– Nothing in life comes easy, and for UConn basketball, that means almost allowing one of the worst teams in the country to mount a comeback in the final seconds.
Games have been decided in the final moments for UConn (8-7, 1-2 The American) recently—against Wichita State, it was crumbling with five minutes to go. Against Tulsa, it was some questionable decisions and sloppy miscues that led to two overtimes. Today, it was a missed game-tying three from East Carolina (7-8, 1-3 The American) that led to a 70-65 win, but it wasn’t an inspiring one.
“When we get up, we just gotta start executing. We can’t go back to playing careless. And in transition, we gotta find a man and defend,” Jalen Adams, who committed seven of UConn’s 16 turnovers, said.
Coming off a monster game with 29 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists, Adams once again led the Huskies with 18 points, but had only four of UConn’s seven total assists and was 0-for-3 from the 3-point line. As a whole, the Huskies went just 2-for-16 from beyond the arc, with Christian Vital making the only two treys. Vital and Terry Larrier both finished with 16 points.
The poor 3-point shooting, UConn coach Kevin Ollie said, is part of the reason the assist totals were down from last game, where the Huskies had 18.
“We can’t go 2-for-16 from the 3-point line, that’s where you get assists at the majority of the time, especially with us,” Ollie said. “We probably had five fast breaks where we just turned the ball over, I mean, that’s were you get assists at.”
The games started out promising—it took East Carolina nearly seven minutes to hit a field goal, starting out 1-for-9 from the field. Even though UConn’s offense was slow, the defense was tough and the Huskies found themselves up 12 with just over 10 minutes to play in the half.
But ECU fought back, and a 14-2 run over four minutes put them up by one with 2:35 to go. During that stretch, UConn missed all three of their shot attempts and turned the ball over twice. A dunk from Whaley gave the Huskies their first field goal in five minutes, and a jumper from Larrier gave UConn a 32-31 lead at the end of the half.
“I started turning the ball over, and that’s when the other team was able to get into a little rhythm,” Adams said.
The Huskies didn’t start out the second half much better, failing to get defensive stops and allowing ECU to keep the score close, whether it be draining an uncontested 3-pointer or cruising through the lane for layup.
The trio of Adams, Vital and Isaiah Whaley supplied almost all of UConn’s offense, save for an Antwoine Anderson layup, his first bucket in his last 17 tries. Whaley had seven points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes of play, but his sheer energy was something that intangibly helped the team, Ollie said.
“I’m elated with that kid. That kid, he embodies what UConn is all about,” Ollie said. “That’s what we want. And we gotta get more guys like him playing with that intensity, with that focus.”
UConn let the Pirates get as close as four points before a Larrier dunk put UConn up by eight with 4:29 to go. It seemed like they were finally going to put the game away, but each time the Huskies scored, they immediately gave up a basket on the next possession.
After trading buckets back-and-forth for two minutes, a 3-pointer from Isaac Fleming, his first basket of the game, put ECU within five with 58 seconds to go. A Vital free throw slightly bumped up UConn’s lead, but Anderson fouled ECU’s Shawn Williams, who was 2-for-7 beyond the arc, while taking a 3-point shot. Williams sank all of his foul shots, and suddenly the Pirates were within three with 24 seconds to go.
The Pirates intentionally fouled Larrier, but he missed the first shot of a one-and-one and gave East Carolina a chance to tie the game with 16 seconds to go. B.J. Tyson, who led ECU with 21 points, got a pretty good look off the inbounds play.
“(I was thinking) please come off, please come off so I can get this rebound and get fouled and finish the game,” Vital said about watching Tyson’s final shot go. “But Tyler (Polley) was able to get the rebound, and give extreme credit to him, being a freshman and being able to step up. It wasn’t a big game, but it was a game we needed to win and he was able to hit two free throws and seal it.”
Today’s win marked UConn’s first conference victory and snapped their four-game losing streak. They’ll rest for a few days before taking on a tough UCF team at Gampel Pavilion Wednesday at 7 p.m.