The UConn men’s basketball team played fast and aggressive in Friday’s exhibition match against Southern Connecticut State, defeating the Owls 96-64 at Gampel Pavilion.
Freshman Brendan Adams got the surprise start and took full advantage, leading the Huskies with 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting with three assists and three rebounds in a team-high 29 minutes. After the game, head coach Dan Hurley said he was pleased with his team’s performance, but stressed there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
“It was little ugly at times, but it was good to get those opening night jitters out of the way,” Hurley said. “There’s a lot of things for us to fix on both ends of the court.”
The Owls came out of the gate hot, jumping out to a 7-1 lead to open the game. UConn’s defense looked far more organized after the initial run, but SCSU made a series of tough shots to maintain the lead. The Owls shot 85 percent from the field through the first five minutes, leading 20-14.
“We had a multitude of defense breakdowns in the first ten minutes where I thought they were on their way to putting 110 on us,” Hurley said. “We just started guarding more responsibly, and with their lack of depth, we just wore them down.”
Jalen Adams, whose status was a game-time decision due to a suspension, checked in at the 13:17 mark in the first half. However, he was unusually quiet, not attempting a shot in his first four minutes of action.
The Huskies continued to climb their way back, wearing down the injury-riddled Owls. UConn finally seized the lead at 23-21 with 9:33 to play in the first half on a layup from Adams, his first made field goal of the game.
Graduate transfer Tarin Smith was the surprise of the first half, attacking the basket and repeatedly finishing in the face of tough defense and drawing fouls. Smith tallied 11 points, including a perfect 7-for-7 from the free throw line, in just eight minutes of action.
Redshirt sophomore Alterique Gilbert was impressive throughout the first half on both ends. With five minutes remaining in the half, Gilbert put any lingering injury concerns to bed, getting a steal in the open court and throwing down a dunk on the other end to extend the Huskies’ lead to 38-30. Gilbert closed the half with 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting with three steals.
“Health-wise and confidence-wise, that [improves] each and every day,” Gilbert said. “That goes into my preparation for practice or anything I do, so I’m feeling great.”
UConn went on a 9-0 run in the final minutes to take a 52-40 lead into the break, shooting 50 percent from the field in the half. Senior Isaiah McLeod kept the Owls close, pouring in 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting including 4-for-4 from 3-point land.
After a competitive first, the Huskies flat-out dominated the second half, outscoring SCSU by a 44-22 margin. The highlight of the half came with 10:52 remaining, when senior Kwintin Williams threw down a vicious fast break slam to extend UConn’s lead to 72-48.
After tallying 11 points in the first half, Christian Vital was mostly absent in the second. It was an up-and-down game the junior, who got the start. On the bright side, Vital stuffed the stat sheet, notching 11 points, three assists, four rebounds and three steals in 21 minutes of play.
Vital also, however, picked up a technical foul in the second half and missed a wide-open dunk in the first, neither of which hurt UConn much in the end, but neither will sit too well in Hurley’s mind either.
“It was a tale of two halves for CV,” Hurley said. “He’s got his competitive fire that can drive a team, but the second half shot selection, and putting himself in position to get that technical foul. We’re not gonna tolerate that, but he goes hard every day, and I have a short memory with guys who go hard every day.”
The Adams duo carried the scoring load in the second half, combining for 21 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Jalen finished with 16 points, one point behind Brendan, who followed Hurley from URI to UConn, and seized the opportunity of the unexpected minutes.
“It was just really fun,” said Brendan. “At first I think I was a little nervous, but as the game went on, I got into a flow and it just became playing basketball.”
It was the Huskies’ defense that really propelled the team to victory, recording 13 steals and generating 21 points off turnovers, wearing down SCSU on the break. UConn rolled the rest of the way en route to a 96-64 final.
“We’re not a very complete team, so we need to be scrappy, gritty” Hurley said. “You can win a lot of games in college basketball if you’re the hardest playing team on the court.”
The Huskies will look to keep up the defensive activity in their season opener on Thursday against Morehead State at Gampel.