This UConn team can fight—but they’re not there yet.
In another chance to prove themselves against a national team, the UConn men’s basketball team (7-3) once again fell short to No. 11 Florida State (8-1), with turnovers and a poor performance from the floor sinking the Huskies in a 79-71 loss at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey as part of the Never Forget Tribute Classic.
Alterique Gilbert led the Huskies with 24 points, Jalen Adams recorded 15 and Tarin Smith notched 12, but they couldn’t overcome strong performances from Florida State’s Terrance Mann (20 points, nine rebounds), David Nicholas (16 points, four rebounds) and Mfiondu Kabengele (15 points).
From the beginning, it looked like UConn was poised to have a big night, and they played well for the first 15 minutes. The Huskies jumped out to an early 7-0 lead after Adams sunk a 3-pointer. The Seminoles quickly recuperated, however, and took their first lead of the night after a quick 7-0 run but them up 17-16 with 11 minutes to go.
UConn fought back to reclaim their lead, going up by as much as five after Kassoum Yakwe, who played a decent game with four points and six rebounds, dumped in a layup, but Florida State hit a 3-pointer on the next possession, plunging the game into a gritty back-and-forth match that saw five different lead changes in six minutes.
The Huskies couldn’t have closed out the half in a worse fashion. With a one-point lead at 2:24 to go, UConn allowed the Seminoles to go on an 11-2 run, culminating with two fouls and a turnover in the final 34 seconds. By the end of it, Florida State was up 39-33 and UConn had committed 13 fouls and 11 turnovers—four of them coming from Adams and three from Gilbert.
The start of the second half was merely a continuation from the end of the first—Mann hit a 3-pointer on the very first possession to balloon Florida State’s lead to nine. It took UConn a whopping five minutes and 21 seconds to hit a field goal, easily their longest scoring drought of the season.
Adams, whom head coach Dan Hurley constantly says needs to step up and take over games like this, powered through the lane and completed a three-point play to end the scoreless bid. After drawing a few fouls, UConn cut their deficit down to 11, but they couldn’t get anything going on the offensive end to bring them back in. UConn shot 33.3 percent from the field in the second half as opposed to Florida State’s 50 percent.
Mann simply took over for the Seminoles, netting 13 points in 12 second-half minutes. But the Huskies, embracing Hurley’s fighting spirit, didn’t fold in like they have in recent years. The Seminoles got their lead up to 15 at a few points, but the Huskies were able to prevent them from making their deficit any worse.
In fact, Adams and Gilbert hit back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the lead down to 63-56, but when one hole gets plugged up, another one opens. Anthony Polite hit a monster 3-pointer and Christ Koumadje threw down a putback dunk to bring the Florida State lead back up to 12.
That wasn’t the end, though. With the deficit at seven, Gilbert picked off a would-be lob, sprinted into the lane and euro-stepped into a floater to cut the Huskies’ deficit to five with just over one minute to go.
Florida State and UConn exchanged a few points from there, but in the end, when Adams drove to the lane and couldn’t finish, Hurley got T’d up as he shouted at the officials to call a foul. Nicholas hit both free throws for the Seminoles, and it was all over. UConn was outmatched by a tougher, more mature team, showing yet again that it’s going to be a long project for Hurley to get the Huskies back to the elite level.
Fouls and turnovers turned what would have been a tough, exciting game into a drawn-out slugfest. Both teams combined for 54 fouls, three flagrants and one technical, and Florida State notched 23 points from the free throw line as opposed to UConn’s 18 points. Florida State actually turned the ball over 22 times to UConn’s 18 but shot 45.5 percent from the floor to UConn’s 37.3 percent. The Huskies finished shooting 7-for-21 from three.
UConn will return home in a week to take on Marshall at Gampel Pavilion. Tipoff will be at 8 p.m.