Hartford, CT — UConn was only ever in the smallest bit of danger in their eventual 91-74 win over Cornell on Tuesday.
The Huskies started off strong with a 6-1 run, forcing three turnovers in the first five minutes but quickly gave it back, allowing easy layups off of backdoor cuts and in transition and suddenly they were down by four with ten minutes to go.
It was Christian Vital and one of his patented hustle plays that gave the Huskies what they needed to come out of their funk. Down 23-22, Tarin Smith gathered the ball after a Cornell miss and passed it the length of the court to Vital, who laid it up and in for the and-1, breathing life into the crowd and the Huskies.
This sparked an 11-0 UConn run giving them an eight-point lead, where they would sit at or above comfortably for the rest of the game.
“There was some yelling from coach Hurley, and just us understanding what their offense was,” Vital said on what allowed them to turn it around. “I felt like we were the tougher team, we kinda just imposed our will on them.”
Vital would end the night 6 for 12 with 19 points, a pretty great way to snap out of a three-game funk to start the season that saw him average just 8 points per game while shooting 35 percent from the field.
“We need him on the court because he gives us heart. He’s the type of personality and competitor that us Hurleys like to go to war with,” head coach Dan Hurley said.
Jalen Adams led the team in scoring, going 9-16 for 21 points, four rebounds and three assists, displaying his unique ability to take over the game, Hurley said.
“Jalen was like an alpha today, I loved the way he attacked,” Hurley said
Guards Tarin Smith and Alterique Gilbert filled up the stat sheet themselves: Gilbert had 11 points, five rebounds and two assists and Smith was a little slow to get going, but made his presence known in the second half.
Cornell had cut the lead to 13 when Smith entered the game in the second half, where he scored 10 of his 12 points, including a fast break dunk and a series of crossovers and acrobatic layups to put the game out of reach.
“First half [Smith] wasn’t very good, second half he was great, he’s been one of probably, in terms of consistency, probably been easily our second or third best player,” Hurley said.
UConn’s biggest lead of the night came in the second half, when Vital threw a lob to Adams to push it to 87-64.
“My pass was better than his catch of course, I had to get it to him,” Vital joked.
Guard Brendan Adams provided some juice off the bench for the Huskies with eight straight points to close out the half, widening the UConn lead to 15 at the time.
UConn’s big men had a slow start: Josh Carlton and Eric Cobb had just two points and a rebound each to start the game, while Tyler Polley led the bunch with five and was the only one out of the group to finish with double digit points or rebounds. This wasn’t the type of game where they needed to explode to be successful however, Hurley said.
“It was a tough game for our bigs to play in, there were so many skilled, agile players they were putting on the court,” Hurley said.
Bench forward Isaiah Whaley did not play due to a nagging ankle injury.
UConn returns to the court after Thanksgiving break Saturday at noon against UNH in the XL Center.
Luke Swanson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.