UNCASVILLE – The game didn’t count. That’s what the UConn men’s basketball team should feel relieved about after receiving a thorough beatdown from Providence College Wednesday night at Mohegan Sun Arena.
In an exhibition game benefitting the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, UConn fell 90-76 to their old rival from the Big East.
“I thought it was a great opportunity for us. We have a lot of stuff to correct, but this is what exhibition is all about,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said after the game.
Proceeds from Wednesday’s game will be used to help victims of the recent hurricanes in the United States. The NCAA granted a waiver recently to allow schools another exhibition game if the proceeds were donated to hurricane relief, leading to UConn and Providence reuniting for a good cause.
“At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about,” Larrier said. “Unfortunately, we lost, but it’s not about that. It’s about the hurricane victims. It’s good, I’m glad I played for those [people].”
As for the game itself, it represented the debut of many Huskies, and the return of two others from lengthy injury stints. Their play on the floor represented that fact, as UConn played sloppily on both ends of the floor.
Providence zipped out to a 15-5 lead just 5:51 into the game, as the Huskies failed to defend the 3-point line. UConn started Larrier, Alterique Gilbert, Eric Cobb, Mamadou Diarra and Jalen Adams, with graduate transfer David Onuorah the only player out with injury.
Diarra, Larrier and Gilbert, who all missed nearly the entire 2017-18 season, were rusty in their unofficial returns to the court. Gilbert and Diarra played very sparingly in the first half, while Larrier fired away with little success, hitting just 3-of-12 field goals in the first half.
“My teammates were real supportive, telling me to keep shooting the ball,” Larrier said of his early struggles. “Jalen [Adams] got me a couple easy looks.”
The Huskies hung relatively close in the first half, receiving sporadic bursts of offense from Adams and Vital. Unfortunately for spectators in attendance, the half was plagued with constant foul calls, sending the two teams to the line for a combined 33 free throws. Six UConn players committed multiple personal fouls in the second half.
“Our guys gotta play without fouling. The young guys did that in the second half, but we just gotta play better defense,” Ollie said.
The Huskies went to halftime trailing 40-31, but the game quickly got out of hand in the second half. The Friars opened on a 14-3 run to build a 20-point lead which put UConn in a deep hole that they could never truly dig out of.
Providence guard Makai Ashton-Langford, who initially committed to UConn last year before requesting a release and joining the Friars, helped to deal out offensive damage. Ashton-Langford scored 10 points on 3-for-5 shooting, and generally looked like a playmaker that the Huskies could desperately use.
“Makai came in and played a solid game for them, turning the corner,” Ollie said.
Providence did much of their damage from behind the 3-point arc, hitting 9-of-17 shots from deep. The Huskies struggled to defend out there like they did for much of last season.
The Friars’ lead grew as large as 27 points with 7:41 left, but UConn made a small rally in the game’s final minutes, with newcomers like Isaiah Whaley and Tyler Polley contributing on the scoreboard. Gilbert also had a couple of buckets down the stretch, helping the Huskies trim the lead as small as 13, but make no mistake. Providence won handily.
There will be growing pains with so many fresh faces, and Wednesday was the first.
“This year, we have a whole bunch of new freshmen and a whole bunch of transfers and then guys like Alterique, Mamadou and Terry, they’re just getting back into motion as well. So I’m not hanging this loss over our heads,” Vital said after the game. “Give credit to them, they’re a good team, but I like our chances later on in the season against anybody.”
The Huskies’ exhibition slate continues next Monday against Merrimack at the XL Center in Hartford.