In front of a crowd of 12,051 at the XL Center in Hartford, the UConn men’s basketball team closed out nonconference play in nightmare fashion, as terrible 3-point shooting down the stretch cost them a 70-67 overtime loss to Auburn Friday afternoon.
Adding insult to injury, the Huskies (5-6) have to worry once again about the health of one of their star players. Jalen Adams, the team’s leading scorer averaging 17.4 points per game, was taken out of the game with 13:13 left in the second half with a concussion and laceration. It’s unclear what the timetable for his return will be, and the team has him under concussion protocol.
“It’s hard not to get down—it’s hard—but we gotta find a way to win. We gotta find a way to stay together and play with the guys we have and pull out wins,” Kentan Facey said.
Both halves of the game told a polarizing tale. Auburn (10-2) made sure to pressure UConn around the perimeter in the first half, but tight-knit defense and a lackluster 3-point performance on Auburn’s part opened the door for the Huskies to take command early on. In the second half, awful shooting from the floor and foul trouble plagued the Huskies, and with a short bench already, left head coach Kevin Ollie with little options to go to in overtime; but he wasn’t about to make excuses.
“We definitely didn’t want to shoot a three,” Ollie said, referring to the shot that Vance Jackson took with 9.2 seconds left off an inbounds play in overtime. “It was just an option. We was trying to get him to come off a little down screen. This is a learning experience for Vance and our guys. That’s the best teacher, when you go through that experience.”
UConn got off to a relatively energetic start on both sides of the ball, hopping out to an 10-5 lead and holding Auburn to 2-11 field goal shooting in the first six minutes of play.
Forward Kentan Facey, coming off a 20-point game against North Florida last Sunday, got the Huskies started quickly with a jumper to score the first points of the game. UConn built up a seven-point lead, but their margin quickly shrunk after they allowed the Tigers to score six straight points to bring the score within two at 12-10 with just over 10 minutes to play in the first half.
Four points from Jalen Adams brought UConn back up to a six-point lead, but a 3-pointer and two three-point plays in a row kept Auburn in the game up to the six-minute mark.
The Huskies fluctuated between a six-point and a four-point lead for the rest of the half, seemingly gaining momentum and then quickly losing it. Steven Enoch and Facey both had chances to complete back-to-back three-point plays, but missed their free throws and allowed the Tigers to sneak back in and bring the score to 29-27 with just under two minutes left.
With a minute-and-a-half to go, Enoch hit a mid-range jumper in traffic to give the Huskies a four-point advantage. Auburn’s T.J. Lang hit a 3-pointer 40 seconds later to cut UConn’s halftime lead to only one.
“Our bigs are playing really well—Steve, Kentan, Amida, Juwan. We definitely gotta do a better job. The guards—me, mainly, [Vital] and Vance are not really hitting threes right now, so we need to do something different because that’s not working for us. Playing inside out was a huge force in the first half and I think that was why we was able to get the lead,” Rodney Purvis said.
After going 4-14 from three and just 12-36 (33.3 percent) from the floor in the first half, the Tigers knew they had to start driving to the basket and penetrating the Huskies’ low post defense—and it worked. The pace of the game rapidly picked up as Auburn cut through UConn’s defense, hitting everything from mid-range jumpers to easy layups to open dunks to take a 38-35 lead early on in the second half.
The Huskies didn’t help themselves much, going 2-7 from the floor and 0-2 from 3-point range until Adams hit a three to bring the Huskies back within one. His three was UConn’s third of the day up to that point; the team went a stone cold 2-14 in the first half from beyond the arc.
The guards would largely ignore the bigs in the post for the majority of the second half, taking threes instead of putting the ball back inside. While this was the clear problem in UConn’s second half offense, Facey saw it as aggressive play more than a lack of discipline.
“I just felt like our guards were trying to be aggressive. If that lead to us not getting the ball as much, they were just trying to be aggressive in all ways to get involved in the game,” Facey said.
A Facey dunk and an uncontested long-range jumper from Purvis quickly gave the Huskies the lead back. After being fouled, Purvis made both his free throws to give UConn the illustrious four-point lead with just under 12 minutes to play.
Purvis scored seven points in a row for UConn in two minutes, hitting a 3-pointer to put UConn up 48-43. After the Tigers struck back with two foul shots, Facey slammed home a powerful one-handed dunk to bring the XL crowd to its feet.
UConn couldn’t get a stop if it was right in front of them, however. Each time the Huskies netted a basket, Auburn responded immediately with a basket of their own. And UConn found themselves in quite a bit of foul trouble as the second half waned down; Brimah was taken out after being tagged for his fourth foul of the game with 7:30 left to play, and Christian Vital notched his fourth with 6:30 left to play; he ended up fouling out.
Missed 3-point attempts killed the Huskies down the stretch. UConn took eight 3-pointers in the last 10 minutes of play, and none of the attempts went in. With a lack of guards, Purvis said he definitely tried to be a leader on the court, but playing selfish and not listening to the coaching staff may have cost them.
“Our big guys are keeping us in the game and scoring every time we get the ball inside, I don’t understand why we wouldn’t throw it back in there,” Purvis said. “We just gotta make better plays, play much more poised and with much more understanding of the game.”
With a six-point deficit staring them in the face with a minute-and-a-half to go, UConn knew it was time to fight back. After not making a single shot from the floor for the last 10 minutes of the game (their six points came from free throws), Facey and Brimah both hit contested jumpers, and stellar defense forced the game into overtime with the score knotted at 60 apiece.
Both teams put on an even-keeled overtime performance. In the first three minutes, Auburn hit only two jumpers, and UConn was aided by a Vance Jackson 3-pointer and two free throws from Facey. UConn took a three-point lead after two Purvis foul shots, but Auburn’s Mustapha Heron, who put up 15 points against UConn, quickly retaliated with a 3-pointer and a layup to make the score 69-67 with 21 seconds to play.
“A two don’t hurt us in that situation, a three hurt us. We wanted to switch everything with [Heron], we didn’t want him to get off. I think we did a great job, besides the 15 rebounds, I think we did a great job on him the whole game. But to allow him to get that three, it really hurt,” Ollie said.
Auburn tacked on one final free throw, and 70-67 became the final score. The Huskies finished the day shooting a putrid 14.3 percent (4-28) from three. Both Facey and Purvis hit double-digit scoring for the Huskies, scoring 20 and 15 points, respectively. Facey acquired a double-double by adding 14 rebounds as well, but it wasn’t enough to secure a victory.
UConn will return back to action on Wednesday, Dec. 28 when they begin conference play against Houston at the XL Center.