The UConn men’s basketball team remained unbeaten in the Dan Hurley era with a commanding 94-66 victory over Missouri-Kansas City on Sunday. Tarin Smith and Jalen Adams combined for 42 points on 17-of-22 shooting and the Huskies’ swarming defense forced 18 turnovers.
The Huskies (2-0) were especially active on the defensive end from the get-go, particularly Adams. In the first ten minutes of the half, UMKC (0-3) turned it over seven times, most of which were forced by active hands and quick feet from UConn defenders.
After a slow start, UConn finally got rolling offensively six minutes in and in a big way. Tyler Polley had the hot hand early, drawing an and-one on a fast break and knocking down a 3-pointer on the next possession. That sparked a dominant 20-2 run as the Huskies jumped out to a 26-12 lead and never looked back.
“I’m thrilled to get a win, thrilled to be better than we were on Thursday,” Hurley said. “I thought we showed a lot more killer relentlessness.”
After the home opener, Dan Hurley said his team lacked a killer instinct, allowing Morehead State to hang around. The Huskies made sure that didn’t happen this time, pouring it on the Roos and leading 35-15 with seven and a half remaining in the first. That’s the kind of score we’re used to seeing from the women’s team, but they’ve been few and far between for the men in the last couple seasons.
In the opener, Adams played just eight minutes in the first half due to foul trouble. On Sunday, he had a commanding first half, notching eight points on 3-of-5 shooting along with an assist, but was even more impressive defensively, forcing a pair of turnovers and slapping a chasedown block off the backboard.
Smith was locked in on the offensive end in the first, scoring 15 points with just two missed field goals in nine attempts. Hurley revealed after the game Smith has been dealing with a quad injury which limited his minutes, but he is nearly back at 100 percent. The Huskies led 50-33 at the break.
“He’s not coming off the bench by design, he’s just not been healthy, but he’s looked pretty good not healthy,” said Hurley, who later joked that some past history may also explain Smith’s current sixth-man role. “I recruited him at Rhode Island and he went to Nebraska on me. I guess that’s why I’m not gonna start him.”
The Kangaroos picked it up slightly in the second, capitalizing on some lazy passing and ballhandling from the Huskies, trimming the lead to 15 with 12:46 remaining. After shooting 53% from the field in the first, UConn went over five minutes without a made bucket until an Adams steal and breakaway layup made it 62-45.
From there on, it was Huskies the rest of the way. With just under 10 minutes left, Smith continued his red-hot shooting, drilling a corner 3 to make it 69-46. Then a UMKC turnover on their next possession found Smith in the open court. Rather than take it himself, Smith shoveled it back to Eric Cobb, who emphatically slammed it home and brought the Gampel crowd—which saw another strong turnout—to its feet.
“I’ll do whatever the team needs,” Smith said on his current role coming off the bench. “Getting people involved is fun for me. We all have so many different facets of our game, we have to learn to play together instead of as five individuals. If we do that, we’ll be really good.”
One of the major remaining questions about the team after the opener was whether the Huskies could rebound at a higher level than a year ago. They looked improved in that area on Sunday, pulling down 13 offensive boards, but also allowed some lazy UMKC second chances as well.
UConn rolled the rest of the way in the second, allowing for some valuable court time for the non-starters, and the defensive effort continued to stifle the Roos’ halfcourt offense. The Huskies finished with 27 points off turnovers; UMKC had just six.
Smith finished with 22 points (10-12, 2-3 from 3) and three rebounds. Adams added 20 (7-10, 4-6) with three assists and a pair of steals. It was another quietly superb game from Adams, but his coach wants to see more.
“If we’re gonna have a great season, Jalen Adams can’t shoot 10 shots,” Hurley said. “Adams has to shoot 17, 18 shots. Role identification on offense is a big thing for us.”
Up next for the Huskies is a trip to Madison Square Garden to wrap up the 2K Empire Classic, taking on rival Syracuse (2-0) on Thursday and then either Iowa (2-0) or Oregon (2-0) on Friday. Thursday’s game will be the first big test of the season for UConn, and the team is eager to prove itself.
“It’s a great feeling when you’re on that court, you feel like the whole spotlight is on you,” Adams said of playing at MSG. “I can’t wait to get out there with my team.”