UConn takes the dramatic overtime route to victory once again
Hartford — Dramatic heart attack specials seem to suit this UConn basketball team.
That's when its collective competitive heart beats the strongest.
For the second straight game, UConn outlasted a stubborn mid-major opponent in overtime, beating Monmouth 84-81 on Saturday before 6,582 XL Center fans.
It's not an ideal route to victory, but one that Huskies (6-2) will take for now.
"Our guys, once again, found a way to win," coach Kevin Ollie said. "I'll take the win, but I'm still not satisfied how we're getting there. ... So we're going to keep on going back to the drawing board, continue to work, continue to get our guys to jell. But one thing they're learning to do, they're learning how to win."
"That was a big time win, being four down in overtime with two minutes to go to pull that one out."
The Huskies rallied from a 3-point deficit with just over two minutes in regulation and then fought back from a 4-point hole in overtime.
They leaned heavily on junior Jalen Adams (season-high 31 points), sophomore Christian Vital (19 points, six rebounds), redshirt junior Terry Larrier (16 points, team-best eight rebounds, four steals) and graduate transfer Antwoine Anderson (10 points), who all played at least 41 minutes.
It's no surprise that UConn turned to Adams with the game on the line.
Coming out of a timeout trailing by one late in overtime, Adams attacked the basket and converted a short floater in the lane to hand the Huskies an 81-80 edge with 32 seconds left.
"The play was for me to come off the pick and roll," Adams said. "A couple of times before that, I was going by the big (man) and getting the rim. I noticed when I came off the screen, he started backing up so I knew I was just going to take the floater and it went in."
After Monmouth's Micah Seaborn misfired on a 3-pointer, the Huskies secured the rebound. Vital went to the foul line twice in the final 4.9 seconds, sinking three to close out the win. Vital hit 11 of 13 free throws and UConn made 21 of 28 compared to Monmouth's 57.7 percent (15-for-26).
UConn improved to 4-0 in games decided by eight points or less.
"We have guys who are willing to finish games and not just give up because we're UConn," Vital said. "The teams before us used to blow out teams. We'll take a win. Obviously, we want it to be a lot easier. If that's the way it's going to be, that's the way it's going to be as long as we come out with a W."
Vital pointed to Anderson's defense as a major reason why UConn pulled out the win.
In the second half, Anderson made life uncomfortable for Seaborn, holding the Monmouth star to just seven points after intermission.
Trailing 42-36 at halftime, Anderson volunteered to guard Seaborn, who had already torched the Huskies for 20 of his 27 points.
Anderson said to his teammates in the locker room: "This is my job and I'm going to stop him this half."
The Huskies continue to run hot and cold during games. They had too many defensive breakdowns, allowing Monmouth to shoot 51.8 percent overall.
"We've got to get our defense better," Ollie said. "It can't be all these blow-bys and them just getting to the rim."
On two different occasions, the Huskies missed 10 straight shots. They lost a nine-point lead in the first half, trailed by six at the break, and then opened the second half with a 13-0 spurt to go back in front.
Then the Hawks (3-5) surged ahead again, holding the Huskies without a field goal for nearly eight minutes. Adams scored five of his team's last seven points in regulation, including a game-tying free throw (74-74) with 33 seconds left to force overtime.
Down 80-76 in overtime, the Huskies responded once again as Vital's 3-point play sparked a game-ending 8-1 run. Vital (6) and Adams (4) combined for all their team's points in the extra session.
The last time UConn won two straight overtime games came during the 2013 season when it beat Providence and South Florida.
"Those kids kept believing in each other," Monmouth coach King Rice said of UConn. "Two overtime wins, back-to-back. That means their kids are well coached... They continue to fight even in situations where it looked like we might have had a chance. Those kids kept making the right plays, and that's how you win down the stretch."
UConn played without guard Alterique Gilbert (shoulder) but reserve Eric Cobb returned from an ankle injury.
UConn junior Jalen Adams (31 points) talks about his team’s dramatic OT win over Monmouth. pic.twitter.com/kOz4b8rcSh— Gavin Keefe (@GavinKeefe) December 3, 2017
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