Home court advantage is just that, an advantage. Somewhere mixed in with the fans, band, cheerleaders and the hardwood, home court theoretically gives a team an upperhand.
This rings true for the 2019-2020 UConn men’s basketball team, a team on the backend of a longer-than-they-would-like stretch of losing seasons.
Outside of an untimely loss to St. Joe’s back in November, UConn has been perfect at home, winning its last six-straight games between Gampel Pavilion and Hartford’s XL Center. Wednesday night’s win made it seven.
Away from Connecticut? The Huskies are 2-4 in games played elsewhere, two of which coming at neutral venues. The two true road games were both against conference foes.
“Bottom line is we haven’t won a lot here,” head coach Dan Hurley said. “We have four national championships in the last 20 years, but this is going into the fourth year of not a great stretch. Confident, mature, winning teams play well on the road. Obviously that’s going to be a challenge for us the rest of the year and it’s my responsibility as a leader to get that type of play and grittiness and toughness on the road.”
The Huskies are scoring 20 more points at home versus on the road and Wednesday’s 67-61 win over Tulane fell in line with their season averages: scoring 75.6 and giving up 61.1. Three Huskies score in double figures on home soil, while only one does so away.
Against Cincinnati and USF, the Huskies moved the ball, but without consistency and there was a noticeable inability to drive to the rim. This limited the Huskies to a 60-point summit while both opponents seemingly scored at will.
In the return to Gampel, the ball moved with urgency and purpose, with guards kniving their way through lanes.
With 4:31 left in the first half, the ball snapped around the perimeter before Brendan Adams tested his man. Adams was stopped in his tracks before finding Christian Vital back at the 3-point line who drove, forced a blocking call and went to the line for a pair. The team’s leader in free-throw percentage sunk both shots of the 1-and-1.
“Playing here is comfortable for us,” Josh Carlton said, who scored just four points on the road trip. “We get a lot of reps here at Gampel.”
Carlton, who scores nearly 10 points per home game, is not the only Husky with stark home-road splits. Both Alterique Gilbert and Vital’s scoring totals drop into the single digits in road contests. Vital’s 42.7 shooting percentage drops to 30 and the senior made one of his eight attempts from 3-point range on the road, compared to 16-for-41 at home.
As a team, UConn is shooting seven percent worse from the field on the road (43.1 v.s. 36.4) and nine percent worse on three-pointers (37.7 v.s. 28.6). In the return home, the Huskies shot 42.5 percent with Vital, Gilbert and Carlton each scoring in double figures. Gilbert says the fans have a hand in that.
“The fans, it just feels better here honestly,” the point guard said. “Especially at Gampel. Great atmosphere.”
In the two roads contests, it’s been the new faces that have played the best. James Bouknight, Akok Akok and Adams are the top three scorers on the road, with Bouknight’s 10.5 points per game mark leading the pack.
Akok’s nine points per game and nearly seven rebounds are on-par with his home numbers (6.3 and 6.6). Adams’ 40% mark from the floor is a tick down from his usual 50% of makes at home, but he’s scoring two more points thanks to his 4-for-8 shooting from downtown.
Adams didn’t have his night on Wednesday, failing to find his way to the statsheet outside of an assist and a couple boards. Akok only scored two baskets, but came down with nine rebounds and swatted four shots. Bouknight scored seven, rebounded four, turned away one and earned a celebratory headbutt from Hurley after diving into the seats for a loose ball.
“We grew closer over the trip,” Gilbert said, who scored an efficient 11 points. “It was a great learning experience for us. We got a few new guys who have never been on the road in those environments. I think we have a chance to respond.”
The Huskies are home, home again for a noon matchup with Wichita State at the XL Center on Sunday.
UConn likes to be here, in Connecticut, when it can.
Thumbnail Photo by Charlotte Lao/The Daily Campus