Coming off a rough 64-60 road loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes, the UConn men’s basketball team looked to bounce back with a win against the North Florida Ospreys to start off the winter break. UConn delivered with a huge team performance on the way to a 80-59 victory on the back of a fantastic second half.
The Huskies’ defense played very well early, contesting almost every North Florida shot and tried to lock down their best player Dallas Moore. Moore averaged 23.2 points per game going into the matchup, and came up big against schools like Florida and Syracuse with 31 and 30 points, respectively.
“[Moore] is going to be in the NBA,” head coach Kevin Ollie said. “He is a talented, talented player. He’s been hot. He’s been scoring 30 points against every big program that he’s played so far.”
However, Ollie and the Huskies had a plan to harass Moore constantly and limited his impact on the game, especially in the second half when he managed only three points.
“[Moore] was going to his left and we were trying to get him to go right, but he’s cutting them off and he’s hitting some step-back tough shots,” Ollie continued. “Over a 40-minute game, that wouldn’t be able to take us out where they can beat us with that. To hold him to 18, I think we did a really good job with that.”
The UConn offense wasn’t doing too well early in the game, but that all changed with back-to-back threes from freshman Christian Vital that got the offense going. Although Moore responded with two threes of his own on the other end, the Huskies offense kept their momentum going out of a TV timeout with an alley-oop from Kentan Facey to Brimah, extending their lead to 23-16.
UConn’s offense, which has been very stagnant in the early parts of the season, struggled to score towards the end of the first half. Despite some solid ball movement and good spacing in the half-court offense, consecutive turnovers and poor shooting decisions cost the Huskies on several possessions.
On the other end of the court, North Florida was getting hot offensively. Moore hit a pull up three in transition to bring the Ospreys within six points before Aaron Bodager drained another three to make it a 39-36 game with seconds to go in the half. The Huskies had one more opportunity to score before the break and they took advantage of it as Steven Enoch made his put-back attempt following a miss by Adams.
North Florida got going early in the second half with a Moore step-back three to pull the Ospreys within two points. However, the Huskies’ defense really started to ramp up the energy, forcing numerous turnovers and bad shots from Moore. The extra energy on defense really slowed down the Ospreys offense and translated into a 51-43 lead into the first media timeout of the half.
"You know, I just thought we played well. [North Florida] was coming in shooting hot, shooting 46 percent and to hold them to 33 percent, they took a lot a large amount of threes and I knew they would make a couple threes, but we really played solid defense tonight,” said Ollie.
With just about 12 minutes to go in the game, UConn led 62-50 before a Garrett Sams’ three-pointer put the Ospreys back within single digits. But senior Rodney Purvis made sure to stifle any momentum North Florida had, hitting back-to-back threes of his own to give the Huskies a 68-53 lead.
Brimah threw down an alley-oop slam after the eight minute TV timeout to give UConn a 72-55 lead. Moments later, he dished the ball to his frontcourt partner Facey for an easy bucket as the Huskies began to really pull away from the clearly overmatched Ospreys.
Facey was a monster all night offensively on his way to a career-high and game-high 20 points. When he’s rolling, the Huskies are a different team and are able to find more space for their shooters in their half-court offense and that showed on Sunday afternoon.
“To score 20 points in [Facey’s] 99th game and to have nine rebounds – I thought he could’ve had that tenth rebound – but I just thought he did a great job,” Ollie said. “I think he’s in his best place ever, mentally. He’s been bouncing back with a clear mind and he’s clearly playing with confidence. I just want him to keep playing with that energy.”
The end of the UConn bench got in on the action with just under two minutes remaining to a standing ovation from the fans as they closed out the 80-59 Huskies’ win to start off the winter break.
Next up, the Huskies will play the Auburn Tigers in Hartford at the XL Center on Friday, Dec. 23. in their last game before the American Athletic Conference schedule begins.