HARTFORD— In what was indisputably the worst offensive performance by the Huskies all season, the UConn men’s basketball team was able to scrape out a 51-49 victory over Boston University at the XL Center.
Any other night, the Huskies would have most likely lost by at least 20 with the numbers they put up. Fortunately, the Terriers are an even worse offensive team. Both teams combined to go 14-for-54 from the floor in the first half, and 35-for-111 overall. UConn only went 17-for-53 (32.1 percent), which slightly outperformed BU’s 18-for-58 (31 percent).
“We got eight guys, and we’re going to keep playing with those guys,” head coach Kevin Ollie said. “We ain’t making no excuses, but I’m very happy with the win. Finding ways to win, staying with it, we just gotta be a little more poised down the stretch. But overall, I’m very pleased with our defensive effort.”
In a slow offensive game, the one bright spot was the improvement of the Husky defense from the first half to the second. In the first half alone, UConn was beaten 26-to-16 on the glass. It may not have entirely been the fault of the Huskies, as a sizeable number of shots from BU took odd bounces and just so happened to fall into the hands of the opponent.
The defense improved greatly during the second half, however, as UConn held the Terriers to only 2-of-10 from beyond the arc and picked up 26 rebounds.
“We just made a better effort to crash the glass, box out and make sure we get a clean rebound so we can run in transition,” senior forward Kentan Facey said.
The Terriers, who are a predominately 3-point shooting team, cut through UConn’s relatively open defense in the first half and made a number of shots simply by driving to the basket and making their layups—something that UConn has struggled with all season, and especially tonight. BU committed 11 turnovers in the first half, but the Huskies failed to score a single fast-break point. They finished the game with only two.
“I still want to be a fast break team, but two [points] is not acceptable, no. Jalen has to get the ball and command it, especially when we hold a team to 31 percent, we have to get those long rebounds and push it down the court… I want us to be selective when their defense it back, recognize that, and get a good shot every time,” Ollie said.
Largely due to the fact that nobody could make a single shot, neither team had a lead of more than five for the entire first half. After a Christian Vital 3-pointer put the Huskies up by three with just under eight minutes to play, neither team made a field goal for four minutes until Facey broke the ice with a jumper. But as the story goes, BU would run down the floor and hit a layup immediately to take away any momentum that UConn could have hoped to build.
At the end of the first half, the score was a miniscule 21-17, far and away the worst offensive showing for the Huskies thus far. Luckily for them, they were bailed out by an even worse performance from the Terriers. Both Facey and Amida Brimah lead the way for UConn with six points at the conclusion of the half, with four of Brimah’s points coming from free throws. Jalen Adams only had two.
It seemed like UConn was going to start the second half with a little more fire; Rodney Purvis fired a perfect pass to Steven Enoch, who drained the shot and got the foul. But he would miss the free throw, allowing BU to immediately retaliate with a layup. The Huskies would them commit three-straight turnovers and allow the Terriers to get within a basket before going on a six-point run to go up 29-23.
The Terriers got the game back to within one, but the Huskies did not allow BU to tie or take the lead. UConn’s lead was as large as eight points with just under three minutes to go, but the Terriers fought back and hit a big three with five seconds to go to make it a 50-48 game.
In the end, the Huskies would prevail, largely due to Vital’s 13 points, which included two 3-pointers that kept UConn’s slim lead alive with just under 10 minutes to go in the second half. Facey also stepped up, contributing eight points and seven rebounds.
“I mean, I believe in myself. I’m very confident in myself. I believe that I can play a lot of minutes, being a freshman or not. I do need to be more solid [on defense]… being in that situation is going to bring more experience to me, so going on, I definitely think I’ll be able to handle it better and be more solid,” Vital said.
UConn’s 51 points were the lowest they’ve scored all season, and considering their next game is a huge matchup against Syracuse at Madison Square Garden, fortune does not seem to be in their favor; but Facey knows that each game is different and anything can happen.
“I mean, you never know how the game is going to turn out,” Facey said. “We’re down a lot as far as the level of talent we had in the beginning of the season. Games are going to be tough, some games are going to be different, but we just have to stick together and grind it all out.”