It’s been a tough stretch for UConn lately. The tough losses, the slow starts, the poor shooting. It’s been taking a visible toll on the players and the coaches.
Senior Night is always a bittersweet time, and with the thin crowd present for the ceremony honoring Terry Larrier, David Onuorah, Antwoine Anderson, Mike Noyes and Christian Foxen, it felt like the only feelings were bitter. But for the first time in a long time, the UConn men’s basketball team played an all-around solid game in a 72-66 win over Temple. Jalen Adams dropped 25 points and had eight assists. Multiple other team members contributed in different ways; Christian Vital had 12 rebounds, Anderson and Tyler Polley both hit clutch shots. The team was laughing at half court in the final seconds.
Now that’s what good vibes look like.
“It definitely changes the spirit around practice. Everybody’s more excited to come play,” Adams said. “And I think today we were just out there, we just had fun. It was enjoyable basketball for us and for the fans, so it was great to play like that today.”
Temple is by no means a bad team, ranked No. 40 in RPI. But they’re 10th in the conference in shooting percentage (.427) and they played like it today, going 27-for-75 (36 percent) from the floor. A big chunk of that was their poor 3-point shooting, making just six shots of 31 attempts (19.4 percent).
It was part of Kevin Ollie’s plan to push them off the perimeter, but the Owls were just off their game tonight.
“Well, certainly 6-for-31 is not good,” Temple head coach Fran Dunphy said. “But we had so many opportunities at the rim that we couldn’t take advantage of. We probably needed to get ourselves at the foul line more than 12 times, I mean, we didn’t kill it at the foul line either.”
A Senior Night to remember
In Philly exactly a month ago, Temple put the hurt on the Huskies, pounding them 85-57 while holding Adams to just seven points. On Wednesday, Adams shot 9-for-15 from the floor and 5-for-9 from 3-point range in all 40 minutes.
“I thought Jalen took his time, and I thought his 3-ball was working today too,” Ollie said. “When he starts shooting 3s, he’s pretty much unguardable. He’s knocking down 3s because he’s so good with the basketball, off the bounce and getting into the lane. I thought he did a good job, and I’m so proud of eight assists and two turnovers.”
“You know he’s going to come out and try and play his best basketball,” Dunphy added. “I thought we did a really good job keeping him in front of us in the first game. We obviously didn’t do that good a job today… he was a really good basketball player tonight.”
Despite big numbers, Adams said he wasn’t so much focused on himself as he was on sending the seniors off with a bang.
“We wanted to send the seniors out the right way,” Adams said. “I know a lot of times we had open shots, but I kind of wanted to get [Terry] going. With it being one of his last games, we wanted to go out on a high note.”
This was indeed Larrier’s last home game—he announced yesterday that he will graduate at the end of the year with plans to turn pro. While he didn’t light up the box score, he had 13 points and seven rebounds in 33 minutes of play, a huge improvement from Sunday’s eight points in 21 minutes.
It’s been a rough ride for Larrier at UConn, sitting out his sophomore year due to NCAA transfer rules and tearing his ACL last season. This season has had its ups and downs (and elbows to the face), but his improved play, along with the rest of the team’s, is vitally important as the conference tournament approaches, Adams said.
“It’s just good when we’re able to win those games, especially versus a good team like Temple, because it just changes everybody’s mood coming into the next couple of days,” Adams said. “It’s always good to play your best basketball toward the end of the season.”
Though Anderson’s UConn career was short-lived, he stepped up for his last home game. The graduate transfer from Fordham only scored 10 points, but he hit two big shots in the final minutes when the score was close—a three-point play to retake the lead with 4:04 to go and a jumper with 2:57 to go to extend the Huskies’ lead to three.
“I like taking those shots [down the stretch]. Those are the shot that I make all the time,” Anderson said. “It’s amazing, this whole experience was just fun to me with my teammates and the coaches… I just wanted to come out here and play as hard as I can and play hard every night and just give them whatever I have in my tank.”
As the Huskies get ready to take on Houston for their final regular season game on Sunday, they can take some positive momentum with them. Ollie expressed how proud he was at multiple players stepping up and giving the seniors a proper send-off.
“I think it’s key,” Ollie said of the win. “I mean, last night for our seniors, you know, playing with heart. That was all it was, it was just playing with heart, playing unselfishly, playing for those guys and… have this home crowd leave Gampel for the last time this season with a win.”