In college hoops, not all wins are created equal. Good teams are expected to not just edge out inferior teams, but dominate from end-to-end. For the third straight game, the UConn men’s basketball team did just that, routing UMass Lowell, 97-75, on Tuesday night at Gampel Pavilion.
The Huskies (6-1) had four players in double digits, a feat they’ve accomplished in every game so far this season. Christian Vital and Jalen Adams led the way with 19 points each, Josh Carlton and Alterique Gilbert added 15 apiece and the swarming UConn defense forced 19 turnovers.
“We’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing,” Vital said. “We’re supposed to be winning these games. You come to UConn, you don’t expect to lose that much. We’re winning now, so we just need to keep doing our job out there on the court as a team.”
With powerhouse opponents on the horizon, UConn has feasted on mid-major opponents. The Huskies have now won each of their past three games by at least 17 points. Last season they had just two victories by that margin all year.
The River Hawks (4-5) started ice-cold from the field, certainly caused in part from some feisty UConn defense but more so the product of some wide-open misses. Lowell made just two of their first 11 shots, allowing the Huskies to jump out to a 21-6 lead during that span.
On the UConn side of the ball, it was the Christian Vital show. Vital, who has struggled at times this season with shot selection and consistency, was absolutely lights out from the field in the first. He poured in 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including 4-of-6 from beyond the arc, accounting for 17 of UConn’s first 30 points.
“The shot selection gets away from Christian at times, he takes some bad gambles defensively, but there’s just something comforting about having him out on the court because of the level of competitor he is,” Hurley said. “I don’t know what the perception of him is, but he’s very coachable. He’s just so competitive he loses his mind sometimes.”
Vital is rarely lacking in confidence; it’s just a matter of whether his shot is falling. On Tuesday, everything was falling. After the game, he gave all the credit to the rest of the team.
“I was just playing, my teammates were doing a great job of finding me and then I just did my job and knocked the shot down,” Vital said. “But I appreciate my teammates finding me.”
Lowell, however, did well to survive the CV onslaught and hang around. Despite trailing by as many as 23 with 8:03 remaining in the first, the River Hawks cut it to ten at the break, 44-34.
Coach Hurley has criticized his team all year for lacking a ‘killer instinct’ when they jump out to a lead. He said it was on full display again against Lowell.
“We had a chance to go into halftime up 25 but we showed our immaturity and just not used to being in advantageous positions like that,” Hurley said. “That’s incredibly frustrating, and it had nothing to do with foul trouble, it had to do with our defensive mindset.”
Led by Jalen Adams, UConn came out of the locker room re-energized to start the second. Adams was mostly uninvolved in the first, taking just four shots from the field. He matched that total in just the first four minutes of the second, hitting on three of them, including a trademark acrobatic and-one. Behind Adams, the Huskies pushed the lead back to 18 through the first five minutes of the half.
The Huskies broke out the highlight reel from there, generating offense from some crafty defense. Gilbert picked the pocket of a Lowell point guard at midcourt, drew a defender and went behind-the-back to a trailing Kassoum Yakwe, who made the bucket and the foul. Moments later, Adams intercepted a pass in the open court and took flight, throwing down a vicious dunk on the fast break to extend the lead to 77-53.
It took longer than many anticipated, but redshirt freshman Sidney Wilson made his long-awaited UConn debut, checking in with 8:57 remaining in the second to a loud ovation from the Gampel crowd. Wilson, who has been absent due to a suspension, played just five minutes, grabbing three rebounds, but missed his only two field goal attempts, both putback attempts at the rim.
“It was Sid’s first minutes in college basketball,” Vital said. “Once he gets his feel back for playing in games, ya’ll gonna see a Sid you haven’t seen before, I promise you that.”
The Huskies cruised the rest of the way, closing with a season-high 97 points. It wasn’t all positives, however, as Lowell shot over 56% from the field in the second half and the ball movement slowed in favor of isolation play. With a huge matchup with Arizona on Sunday, UConn will need a more complete performance to compete with top-tier teams.
“To beat a team like Arizona, you can’t have any personal agendas,” Hurley said. “That’s what happened in the first half: the ball was moving great, and a couple of guys just wanted to get through the last six minutes. If we take that mindset for three minutes in that game on Sunday, we’ll have no chance. We need 40 minutes of toughness, togetherness, just the team being about nothing but winning the game.”