“Oh man, defeat would have been unimaginable. I… you know… bad.”
The pain could be felt in UConn head coach Dan Hurley’s voice when asked about the possibility of losing Saturday’s game. For a team that’s dropped five of its last six games, it was a real possibility.
But even with game time being moved up due to the impending winter storm, a decent crowd of students and fans filled Gampel for a matchup that UConn desperately needed to win. And despite a slow and sloppy first half, the Huskies got that win, riding a 31-point performance by Jalen Adams to get past Tulane 87-71.
“We had Jalen playing at a First Team slash Player of the Year type of level, Josh looked like a really young big with really good potential, we had multiple players play well tonight and looked like really good players in the AAC,” Hurley said. “That’s why we won a conference game. Because we played well.”
Josh Carlton dropped 18 points on 9-for-10 shooting, a career high, and Christian Vital scored 18 with eight rebounds for UConn (11-8, 2-4 The American), while Caleb Daniels led Tulane (4-13, 0-5 The American) with 21 points. Alterique Gilbert also scored 12 points with three rebounds and three assists.
“Josh played amazing today. I know he had his career-high, but it wasn’t too much about the points, it was the approach he had to the game,” Adams said. “I just think he played with such a high motor that the basketball gods were gonna work for him regardless.”
Carlton got the Huskies started on the first play of the game, and UConn piled on from there. Adams brought the energy early, netting a quick four points and grabbing two steals and an assist before Tulane took a timeout, down 13-5.
Carlton sunk six early points in the paint, taking advantage of Tulane’s weak interior defense. The Green Wave were all over the place, committing four turnovers on offense and shooting 4-for-15 from the floor through the first 10 minutes.
The Huskies built up a 28-17 lead after a Vital sunk a 3-pointer. With that shot, the junior reached the 1,000-point milestone, the 51st Husky in history to do so.
“Just watching [Vital] grow as a player, I know a lot of people never expected him to even get a UConn offer, so for him to be here now and be a 1,000 point scorer, that’s huge,” Adams said. “Just a lot of credit and love to him.”
After that shot, though, UConn fell into their usual late first half routine, going nearly three minutes without a basket and allowing Tulane to go on an 11-3 run to get back within six.
The half ended painfully slow for both Tulane and UConn, but the Huskies entered the second half with a 37-30 lead. Carlton and Vital each hit a shot to start the second half, but Tulane cut through UConn’s defense to get its deficit down to four points.
The Huskies responded by going on an 18-5 run, with four of their six made baskets being 3-pointers, to beef its lead up to 62-46 with just under 11 minutes to play. Adams sunk back-to-back shots from beyond the arc in that run.
“We fixed out mindset and stopped worrying about offense. We knew we were gonna score,” Adams said. “We kinda just directed our energy to the defensive end and knew that’s where we kinda have to take the challenge; not only for this game, but in other games soon to come that we just have to approach the defensive end with more energy.”
From there, UConn built a comfortable lead on a dominant performance from Adams. After dropping five of their last six before Saturday, the Huskies are looking to build momentum in conference play before they take on Wichita State next Saturday and then UCF at the end of the month.
“The guys that should be making plays and attacking the paint and try to play off the dribble should be Alterique, Jalen and Tarin,” Hurley said. “The rest of our guys right now need to be finishers; either at the 3-point line as shooters or finishers around the basket. So, we saw less guys trying to do too much today.”