There’s nothing quite like Senior Day to get the tears flowing. Heartfelt tributes coupled with the realization that it’s the last time Amida Brimah, Rodney Purvis and Kentan Facey will be playing a game in Gampel, makes for the rare moment in collegiate sports where everybody remembers that these athletes are human.
Then of course, there’s the game.
Bogged down by injuries and sidelined key players, and the UConn men’s basketball team had no answer for No. 18 Cincinnati in a strenuous 67-47 loss. Three players scored 12 or more points for the Bearcats and, despite shooting 36.4 percent from the field, their 44 total rebounds were just three shy of their season-best performance on the boards. The Huskies did a poor job crashing the glass, and the box score showed it.
“Defense starts and ends, you know, really starts by doing certain things you gotta do on the offensive end, and it ends with you getting a defensive rebound, and we didn’t do that today,” head coach Kevin Ollie said.
This season was tough to swallow in its own way, but Facey has battled with the issue of being a relevant player in Storrs since he arrived. While the thought of leaving crossed his mind more than once over the course of four years, his talks with Ollie about what he needed to do have kept him afloat.
“He pretty much told me that it’s gonna take work, it’s gonna take a lot of commitment, a lot of hard work. And I’m already here, and he wants me to be here, so I might as well just stay and work hard and finish out,” Facey said on Saturday. “It feels good to have a decent year, especially now I can leave on a more positive note.”
When the curtains close on his college days, Facey said he’s going to try and extend his career as long as he can.
Unfortunately, game time did not treat the Huskies’ breakout senior well. Facey had an impressive zero points for the first 34 minutes before scoring eight straight points, six coming from the free throw line. He finished with those eight points, good for the third-best offensive performance of the day.
Brimah had perhaps the most balanced shooting performance, but his mediocre defensive day was disappointing. Scoring the second-most with 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting, he managed to pull down six rebounds, but also played a part in allowing Cincinnati to score 24 points in the paint and 17 second-chance points on 17 offensive rebounds.
It’s no secret that Brimah has had to spend lots of time away from his family in Ghana to pursue his basketball dreams, but focusing on the positives of a turbulent experience is what Brimah will take away from his years here.
“Everything is not all about basketball, you know, it’s about maturing as a person. I came here to graduate and make my parents proud,” Brimah said. “I came from playing soccer to playing basketball. My way to this place was a different kind of way compared to anybody else. I’m going to have a good story to tell.”
Maybe Purvis scoring a team-best 15 points was a positive, but 13 of those 15 points came in the first half, including 11 in the last seven minutes of the first half. He went 0-for-2 from the field in the second half, and any hope of a comeback anchored by UConn’s only healthy guard was gone.
But for the senior transfer who has only spent the past two years in Storrs, putting it all into perspective has shown him that as a player, a leader and, most importantly, a man, he has grown in ways he could have never imagined.
“I just feel like, I never really saw myself graduating,” Purvis said with a laugh after a Saturday morning practice before the game. “Everyone comes in with expectations and things like that, but it’s all about the expectations you set for yourself. Just get better, being a better version of yourself each and every day.”
“With me growing up and having great coaches and those guys being great leaders for us, they helped me a lot through the rough times I’ve had throughout my college career. I’ve definitely grown, you know, I’m 23 now, I feel like I’m a man now… when it comes to tragedy and dealing with rough times, there isn’t much I haven’t seen.”
The offense was incoherent from the very beginning. UConn didn’t score until four minutes in, and didn’t pose a serious threat until 11 points in two minutes from Purvis got the Huskies within six after facing a 14-point deficit. They trailed by 10 at the half, and never got into single digits in the second half.
UConn shot 31.3 percent from the field, which is officially the worst of the season—they shot 31.4 percent in their win over Syracuse in December. Their 16.7 shooting percentage from 3-point range was second, only to Auburn in terms of ineptitude; they shot 4-for-28 (14.3 percent) in that overtime loss.
With a first-round bye no longer in the picture, UConn will look to advance to the second round of the American Athletic Conference tournament with a win over USF on Thursday, March 9 at the XL Center in Hartford. Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.