Carlton impresses in UConn's final men's exhibition game

UConn freshman Josh Carlton dunks over Queens College's Tyrese Crosdale during the first half of the Huskies' 100-43 exhibition win at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
UConn freshman Josh Carlton dunks over Queens College's Tyrese Crosdale during the first half of the Huskies' 100-43 exhibition win at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Storrs — Freshman Josh Carlton is an old school, low-post player.

Few UConn big man in recent memory possess Carlton's back-to-basket skills.

A mobile 6-foot-9, 242-pound forward, Carlton focused on his inside game growing up in North Carolina.

"Everybody wanted to do guard drills but I just wanted to make sure I had a solid post game before I  tried to do anything else," Carlton said. "Not a lot of guys growing up wanted to work on post moves but I always embraced it."

UConn could use an inside presence like Carlton this season. He showed off his promising skills Sunday in a 100-43 rout of Division II Queens College in the exhibition finale at Gampel Pavilion.

Carlton was a bright spot, finishing with a game-high 20 points on 10-for-12 shooting and adding four rebounds in 17 minutes. He did all his damage down low.

"He's really good," coach Kevin Ollie said. "I love how Josh keeps the ball high on the offensive end. He's got some real solid footwork down there. We just want him to keep getting stronger and stronger. He did a great job rebounding.

"Amazingly, he's got real, real quick feet on the defensive end. He can show out on pick-and-rolls and get back to his man. Now it's just him getting some experience playing against some of these better teams that we're going to play against starting with Colgate."

It's difficult to read too much into anything that happened Sunday. A small Queens team was no match for UConn's size and athleticism.

The Huskies raced out to a 28-0 lead, didn't allow a field goal for the first 14 minutes and used a pressure defense to force 28 turnovers. Sophomore Christian Vital finished with 18 points and a team-high seven rebounds while junior Jalen Adams added 16 points and redshirt freshman Alterique Gilbert had 12.

On the negative side, UConn had 20 turnovers. The Huskies were slightly better than previous exhibition games from 3-point land, sinking 7 of 21.

"This is exactly what we needed," Vital said. "Our last exhibition game (against Merrimack), we won but we didn't really play the way we wanted to. But today the energy was great from start to finish. Obviously, we had some mishaps and mistakes, but we were able to play through those and everybody was able to contribute."

The real test starts on Friday when UConn opens the regular season against Colgate at Gampel Pavilion.

With his backcourt rotation is set, Ollie has a variety of options in a rebuilt frontcourt.

Carlton, freshmen Isaiah Whaley and Tyler Polley, junior college transfers Eric Cobb and Kwintin Williams, and redshirt freshman Mamadou Diarra all had a chance to state their case during the three exhibition games.

"I really like (Josh) and Isaiah," Ollie said. "And then Cobb has been playing consistently good for us and Mamadou is giving us energy. But those young bigs are really good. They've just got to continue to work."

Carlton, who's from Winterville, N.C., and attended DeMatha High School in Maryland, was fun to watch against Queens. In one possession, he made a nice move off the dribble and converted a reverse layup. He overpowered a small defender on another scoring play.

"I didn't expect the big fella to do that," Vital said. "Now that we know he can do that, he has to know that's going to be expected from him every game. He's definitely a talented player."

Carlton feels good about the progress that he's made during preseason.

"I just saw myself improve very game and I'm just going to try take that momentum into the regular season," Carlton said.

g.keefe@theday.com

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