Men’s Basketball: Balanced attack fuels much-needed win over Temple

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The UConn men’s basketball team beat the Temple Owls 78-63 in a conference, earning just their second conference win this season. Starting center, Josh Carlton, and sophomore Brendan Adams celebrate on the bench during the game.  Photo by Brandon Barzola, Grabs Photographer/The Daily Campus

The UConn men’s basketball team beat the Temple Owls 78-63 in a conference, earning just their second conference win this season. Starting center, Josh Carlton, and sophomore Brendan Adams celebrate on the bench during the game. Photo by Brandon Barzola, Grabs Photographer/The Daily Campus

On a night when only seven scholarship players dressed to play, the UConn men’s basketball team was going to need contributions across the board to grab a desperately needed win over Temple. That’s exactly what happened, and the Huskies snapped a four-game losing streak with a dominant 78-63 victory at Gampel Pavilion on Wednesday night. 

Six out of the seven scholarship players to take the court for UConn scored in double figures and the only one who didn’t — freshman Jalen Gaffney, making his first career start — had nine. The last time UConn had six players in double figures was the iconic four-overtime win over Cincinnati in the 2016 AAC tournament.  

“We found the recipe to get a win — we just have to win by a lot,” head coach Dan Hurley joked after the win, following four straight losses decided by six points or less. “James [Bouknight] is the one guy who can have explosive nights … but if we’re gonna score enough points to win games, we need balance. A lot of guys need to pitch in because we don’t have that one prolific guy.” 

UConn (11-9, 2-5 The American) was without both Alterique Gilbert and Sid Wilson, in addition to the injured Tyler Polley. Wilson will likely miss “a couple games” due to a knee injury, while Gilbert missed the game due to undisclosed personal reasons, on which Hurley did not elaborate after the game. 

Despite those absences, which left the Huskies with just seven active players on scholarship, it was the most balanced that UConn has looked all season. Therefore, it’s no surprise that it was the most points UConn has scored in a non-overtime game since Dec. 22. 

“I mean, we’re at UConn, everyone on this roster is talented,” senior Christian Vital said. “We’ve got guys on the bench who can start in a lot of other major programs — it’s not like we have scrubs. Next man had to step up and we did it as a team, that was the most important part.” 

Vital, coming off an ugly 3-of-14 showing against Tulsa, continued to struggle with his shot on Wednesday, shooting just 3-of-11 for 15 points. But he did just about everything else at an elite level, pulling down 10 boards, dishing out four assists and had four steals to show for his excellent defensive effort all night. 


UConn men’s basketball coach Dan Hurley points during the team’s win over Temple. The team fielded just seven players with a scholarship in the win.  Photo by Brandon Barzola, Grabs Photographer/The Daily Campus

UConn men’s basketball coach Dan Hurley points during the team’s win over Temple. The team fielded just seven players with a scholarship in the win. Photo by Brandon Barzola, Grabs Photographer/The Daily Campus

“I get on him a lot for his shot selection … but if we get that version of Christian where it’s really good shot selection, tremendous defensively, rebounding the ball, we’ll have a chance to win whether we have seven guys, eight, whatever we have,” Hurley said. “He played a really good game for a guy who shot 3-for-11.” 

But Hurley also got strong performances up and down his lineup on Wednesday. Bouknight and Brendan Adams each had 12 while Isaiah Whaley, Akok Akok and Josh Carlton all had 10 apiece. In his first start, Gaffney had a tough shooting night, making just two of his 10 attempts, but had five assists and continues to show impressive poise and basketball IQ for a freshman. 

“He had a calming influence tonight,” Hurley said about Gaffney’s presence. “Obviously the 2-for-10 isn’t a pretty thing to see statsheet-wise … but I thought he was really good.” 

Unlike most of UConn’s games this season, Wednesday’s was never close. The Huskies jumped out to a 24-8 lead, holding Temple (10-10, 2-6 The American) without a point for over five minutes. By halftime, UConn led by 15, and by then, five players already had five points or more. 

“Having only seven guys, in order to win that type of game, everybody has step up and play well,” Gaffney said. 

As well-rounded a performance as it was on the offensive end, this one was won on defense. Temple turned it over 16 times and shot just 39.7% from the field. Considering the Huskies shot an even worse 35.5%, that defensive pressure was absolutely essential. 

“Our identity is defense,” Gaffney said, echoing his head coach’s familiar phrase. “Our identity isn’t making shots. We play defense, we play hard, and as long as we’re doing that, the shots will fall eventually.” 

The second half was uglier but not any closer, as UConn led by as many as 24 despite a five-minute drought without a field goal. For many players on the team, the comfortable margin of victory was a welcome relief from a seemingly endless string of nailbiters. 

“These last couple games, going down to the wire, losing by two, three, four,” Akok said. “So it was good to go up a lot today, work on our stuff, play our defense and just play together.” 

With the victory, the Huskies leap from second-to-last in the conference standings to sole possession of eighth place. Next up is a critical road test against a reeling Memphis (15-5, 4-3 The American) team which has lost four of its last seven. 

The last time UConn played at the FedEx Forum, it was blown to smithereens by Houston in last year’s conference tournament, 84-45. Redemption and some badly needed momentum are up for grabs for the Huskies on Saturday.


Andrew Morrison is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at andrew.morrison@uconn.edu. He tweets @asmor24.

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