As Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall made his way down the postgame handshake line, he shook his head in awe as he talked to Christian Vital, and again when he reached Jalen Adams.
“That was a pretty solid thumping they put on us tonight,” Marshall, considered one of the best coaches in the country, said after the game. “As their guards go, their team goes, and tonight we got the good rendition of that trio. I’ve watched Jalen Adams a lot the past two years, that may be the best I’ve seen him play. And then when you have Vital and Polley knocking down shots… you have to give them credit.”
Vital dropped a game-high 21 points, Adams put up 19, Polley added 12 and the UConn men’s basketball team (12-8, 3-4 The American) put on an end-to-end rout of Wichita State (8-11, 1-6 The American), 80-60, at a sold-out Gampel Pavilion Saturday night.
The Huskies improve to 7-0 at Gampel this season, and the crowd certainly made its presence felt. A wall of white clothing for “white-out” night, the student section was packed full from the opening tip and was loud throughout.
“Felt really good about the game when you come through the tunnel, see the amazing student turnout, that atmosphere,” head coach Dan Hurley said. “When you get a crowd like that at home, it’s hard not to perform at a high level. Big thanks to our fans, our students, the band, cheerleaders, dancers, everyone, for creating an atmosphere where it was hard to screw it up.”
Things couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start for the Huskies. Here’s how the first three trips on both ends went: Vital intercepts pass, Vital breakaway layup, Gilbert blocks shot, Vital drills corner 3, McDuffie airball, Carlton and-one. Just like that, it was 8-0 UConn, and they never looked back.
The Shockers, who have struggled tremendously lately to pull the ball in the hoop, went the first five minutes without scoring a point. Their first field goal came at the seven-minute mark, and by that point it was already 14-4 UConn. Markis McDuffie, Wichita’s leading scorer, airballed two of his first three shots and barely grazed the rim on the third. He finished 4-of-14.
The Huskies led 43-28 at the half, capped by a Vital 3-pointer at the buzzer. Vital had 14 and the Shockers shot just 27 percent in the half. Sophomore Josh Carlton had himself a half, sending back four shots and putting up nine points on a perfect 4-of-4 from the floor.
“Josh didn’t get a lot of opportunities or experience last year, so this has been almost like a first year of college and you can just see him coming on,” Hurley said. “He has the skill level, but the motor is picking up, the rebounding, the defensive presence—those were some impressive blocks.”
UConn was in complete control in the second half, though things got scary with 14:37 to play when redshirt sophomore Alterique Gilbert ran into a hard screen and collapsed to the floor. With two shoulder surgeries in two years for Gilbert, UConn crowds tend to hold their breath whenever he goes down hard. And on Saturday, it was that exact left shoulder that absorbed the brunt of the hit.
Gilbert did not return to the bench, let alone the game, the rest of the way. However, according to Hurley after the game, the injury is not as serious as it appeared.
“Al is day-to-day,” Hurley said. “I’m not sure about his availability for Thursday, but I think he’s going be fine. He’ll get some kind of test but the early prognosis is day-to-day, not a long-term thing. So I think disaster averted.”
Fellow redshirt sophomore Mamadou Diarra made his season debut, checking in with 4:16 remaining to a hearty applause from crowd. Diarra, who underwent knee injury over the summer, scored on a layup a couple minutes later, getting an even louder reaction from the seats.
But it was Vital and Adams who once again stole the show, not only combining for 40 points, but also 17 rebounds, eight assists—and just one turnover.
“I feel like we have the best chemistry in the country,” Vital said on his relationship with Adams. “We know each other’s games so much, we know where we like the ball, and when it’s time to take over, we can do that together.”
After the game, Vital overheard Adams tell the media that Vital is like a “little bro” to him. Vital called back, “I’m the big bro!”
That duo will now to need to will their team to a win on the road, where the Huskies are just 1-6 this season in true road and neutral games. They’ll take on UCF on Thursday.