The UConn men’s basketball team picked up perhaps its best home win of the season Wednesday on Senior Night at Gampel Pavilion, as it beat conference rival Temple 72-66 behind a 25-point, eight-assist performance from Jalen Adams.
Adams’ playmaking powered the Huskies (14-16, 7-10 The American) to just their second win over a ranked ahead of them in the AAC standings. Christian Vital led the Huskies with 12 boards, while Enechionya paced the Owls (16-13, 8-9 The American) with 15 points.
“Great game for us, we needed that game,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said after the game, after thanking his seniors.
Five players were honored in a brief pre-game ceremony: graduate students Antwoine Anderson, Mike Noyes and David Onuorah, senior Christian Foxen and redshirt junior Terry Larrier.
Game action got underway with honorees Onuorah and Anderson joining Larrier in the starting lineup alongside Adams and Vital. The two teams exchanged bricks in the opening minutes before the Owls found their groove, nailing three 3-pointers to take a 15-10 edge at the first media timeout.
Adams was the impetus for much of UConn’s scoring in the first half, by either spurring ball movement and distributing or doing it himself. A jumper and a nice dish to Mamadou Diarra for a dunk on consecutive possessions gave UConn a 24-19 lead with 7:22 left in the half, as Temple began to grow cold from the perimeter.
“I thought Jalen took his time. His three-ball was working today, too, and when he starts shooting the three, he’s pretty much unguardable,” Ollie said. “I thought he did a good job, and I’m so proud of the eight assists and two turnovers. I’m an old-school point guard, so I like those numbers.”
Enechionya was the only Owl able to consistently create shots for himself throughout the night, and he was crucial toward buoying Temple’s offense. Temple’s leading scorer, Quinton Rose, had a horrid shooting night: 11 points on 5-for-20 shooting and 1-for-9 from three.
Temple grabbed a 32-26 edge with 1:52 left in the first half, but 3-pointers from Adams and Anderson helped trim their lead to 34-32 at the halftime break.
The Huskies came out of the halftime break firing, scoring the first 10 points to go up by eight points and force an early Temple timeout. They got it done by moving the ball efficiently and playing disciplined defense to force turnovers.
“Just being more active, getting out to shooters, getting back in transition,” Ollie said of the Huskies’ defensive improvements Wednesday. “I thought we were keyed in. We were alert, putting in effort and we were also disciplined. When you put those three things together, then you’re going to have a good defensive effort.”
UConn didn’t follow up that run with their usual second-half scoring drought; instead, they withstood a couple of Temple buckets and built their lead as large as 10 points (46-36) as the second half lumbered on. The Owls got within two possessions on multiple occasions, but UConn was able to tread water by picking up baskets when it needed to, often by Adams’ hand.
Temple finally pulled within four points with 7:34 remaining on a Rose breakaway dunk, setting up a tense finish. A 7-0 spurt, capped by a 3-pointer from Shizz Alston, gave the Owls a one-point lead with 4:55 left, but UConn responded with a pair of and-one baskets to go up 59-56 at the final media timeout.
The pivotal moment came with 1:41 left, when strong interior defense from Mamadou Diarra allowed Adams to help and get a block from behind with the Huskies up one point. That defensive stand led to a Tyler Polley 3-pointer on the other end to give UConn breathing room with about a minute left.
“[Diarra] had three blocks, but he changed a number of shots. Our back line, our bigs, are our cornerstone of our defense, and I thought he did a good job,” Ollie said.
The Huskies iced the game with a couple of lay-ups and solid free throw shooting, finishing off the home portion of their season at 11-5, with a 7-2 mark at Gampel Pavilion. In beating Temple, UConn also picked up perhaps their finest conference win of the season, which will help the mindset with the AAC Championship looming next weekend in Orlando.
“It’s huge,” Adams said of beating Temple. “We just know that when we execute the right way, share the ball and when we’re making shots, we can play with the best of them. It’s a great confidence booster for us.”