Notes & Quotes: UConn loses stinker to St. Joe's
STORRS, Conn. - Dan Hurley picked up a win on the recruiting front Wednesday night, but his current UConn squad fell way short on the court.
Ryan Daly and Saint Joseph’s led the entire way through as they stunned the Huskies 96-87 in front of 4,081 home fans at Gampel Pavilion on a chilly New England night.
“Year 2, Game 2 - we obviously have a long way to go,” UConn head coach Dan Hurley said. “What an uninspiring and terrible way to start a game."
Daly was 6 of 12 from behind the arc on the way to 30 points. Rahmir Moore added 22 points.
Christian Vital scored 26 points with a career-high 16 rebounds. Alterique Gilbert added 22 points, Tyler Polley added 13 and freshman Akok Akok added 12 with nine rebounds. The UConn bench was outscored 27-5.
The Huskies (1-1) trailed by as much as 27 points in the first half as St. Joe’s buried them on the perimeter with a 7 of 10 start from 3-point range.
The Hawks (2-1) finished 10-for-21 on threes in the first half and 13-for-33 for the game. UConn managed to cut the lead down to three, twice in the final 5:32 but could never take the lead.
“We found a way with toughness in the final eight minutes of the game,” St. Joe’s coach Billy Lange said.
WHAT WENT WELL
The Second Half Surge: It was a horrible night shooting from the field - 34.9 percent - but the Huskies tried to mount a comeback at the foul line (18-for-20) and the 3-point line (9-for-17) in the second half to cut the lead down to one possession twice. Vital spearheaded the attack, but the Huskies ran out of gas in the end and Hurley wasn’t having any of the “almost won” stuff afterwards.
Dan Hurley: “I put no stock in cutting it down. There are some things that are going to show up on film like offensive rebounds down three, a catch to get the ball in a one-possession game where we had people watching instead of fighting for their lives to get the defensive rebound. That’s a culture thing - that’s accepting losing. … You start wearing that like it’s underwear and it’s in your bones, and just at a place like this with the history it has it’s hard to explain a defensive performance like that.”
Lange: “We need these moments if we’re going to be good. I was just proud our guys stuck together and we prepared for this … we talked about being tough until the very end.”
Youth Movement: While the Huskies were dreadful on the floor, they picked up their second commitment for the Class of 2020. At halftime, Javonte Brown-Ferguson announced he was going to UConn, choosing the Huskies over Texas A&M and Kansas. Brown-Ferguson joins Albany (N.Y.) guard Andre Jackson in next year’s recruiting class and fills the remaining current open scholarship.
Akok Akok also turned in a strong performance, which bodes well for his future. At times early in the game, he seemed like the most composed Husky on the floor.
WHAT NEEDS WORK
Awful Start, Again: Hurley wanted the Huskies to come out with more passion and energy than in the opener, but instead the squad appeared even more lethargic, falling behind 17-2 to a team picked to finish 13th in the Atlantic-10 preseason poll.
Hurley: “To get down 15-nothing and offer that little resistance to start the game, in a home game, Game 2 and you’re season is just beginning and you’re trying to put three years of ugly losing behind you, what an uninspiring terrible way to start a game. I’ve never coached a team that has been in that position to start a game. Obviously we’ve got a lot of work to do, I have a ton of work to do. Man, we have a long way to go.”
Vital: “Can’t explain (the slow starts) just wasn’t paying attention to detail. Coaching staff let us know in the practices leading up to the game that they are a 3-point shooting team and that one was completely on us.”
Volume Shooters: The Huskies' putrid shooting performance was a big part of the problem, with leaders Gilbert and Vital being the biggest culprits. Vital was 5-for-21 from the field, while Gilbert was 5-for-19 - and both were guilty of taking low-percentage shots that were either rushed or heavily contested.
Hurley: “That’s too many shots.”
Vital: “A lot of times we settled, I settled a few times just trying to make a big play, trying to help the team and it just didn’t fall for us.”
AKOK AKOK WATCH
The freshman forward tallied career highs with 13 points and nine rebounds in almost 33 minutes. He was 2-for-2 on the perimeter, and made a highlight play in the second half turning a steal into an easy dunk that cut the deficit to 82-78 with 3:42 to play.
Hurley’s take: “I liked what Akok did. I was able to play him and he gave up a couple of those 3s but he did not have a lot to do with the defensive meltdowns that we had out there.”
Akok’s take: “I’m a big spark, I feel like I’m an energy guy for this team. I’m all about the team and trying to figure out ways to win and doing my part as hard as I can every single day.”
Even with Brown-Ferguson, the Huskies remain in the mix for a second big man, top-50 prospect Cliff Omoruyi, who is not expected to announce until February, … Freshman guard James Bouknight sat out his second game due to suspension for an off-court incident. He will also miss Sunday’s game against Florida. … UConn went with same starting lineup: Vital, Akok, Polley, Gilbert and Carlton. … Vital’s first 3-pointer moved him passed Tate George for 34th place all-time on school’s scoring list.
Sunday, vs. Florida at Gampel Pavilion, 3 p.m. (ESPN3)