Vital emerges from slump, sparks UConn men to comfortable win

Christian Vital of UConn gestures after making a three-point basket during the first half of Sunday's game against Boston University at the XL Center in Hartford. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Christian Vital of UConn gestures after making a three-point basket during the first half of Sunday's game against Boston University at the XL Center in Hartford. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Hartford — Mired in an early season funk, Christian Vital reached out to his support system for some help.

Vital, a sophomore guard, felt bad about his performance in the first two UConn basketball games. He was disappointed that he failed to live up to his role as a spark off the bench.

Leading up to Sunday's game against Boston University at the XL Center in Hartford, Vital met with coach Kevin Ollie and received some words of encouragement from teammate and roommate Jalen Adams.

"We went through a lot last year together," Vital said of Adams. "He was telling me in our apartment, 'I know you're probably going through some stuff but we need you to get it together, especially going into Portland.' "

Vital was a completely different player on Sunday, pouring in a career-high 30 points while providing a surge of energy for UConn in a comfortable 85-66 victory.

Outside of their usual sluggish start, the Huskies played their best all-around game at a good time with a trip out west looming to play in the PK80 Phil Knight Invitational in Portland. They open with Oregon on Thursday.

"I'll take 3-0," coach Kevin Ollie said. "The competition is going to step up a little bit when we get out to Portland, so hopefully our guys are ready."

Ollie also will take having an inspired Vital at his disposal. The Huskies are a dangerous team when Vital contributes off the bench.

After averaging just 4.5 points and shooting 16.7 percent (2-for-12) in the first two games, Vital had a hot hand throughout the BU game, sinking 9 of 15 field goals, four 3-pointers and 8-for-11 from the line. He also was active on the defensive end, being responsible for seven of the team's 14 deflections.

"He just played hard," Ollie said. "If he's mad at me, stay mad at me. I like him scoring 30 points. We had a good talk in my office and he was like, 'I've just got to be humble and I've got to come out and play my game. I can't force things. I've got to play defense. I can't expect things given to me from last year to this year. I've got to work for it.'

"That's what he did. He was amazing out there. Everything he said in my office, that's what he did."

Sunday's game started in typical fashion.

The Huskies missed their first nine shots and fell behind 8-1 by the first media timeout.

Then Vital buried a 3-pointer from the corner for his team's first field goal, sparking a 15-5 run. Redshirt junior Terry Larrier took the scoring baton next and scored seven of his team's next 11 points.

At one point, Vital was 5-for-8 from the field and the rest of the Huskies 5-for-20.

Boston University (0-3) stuck around for awhile in the first half before UConn rode a late surge to an eight-point halftime edge. Graduate transfer Antwoine Anderson's three-pointer beat the buzzer.

UConn dominated the second half and built a 22-point lead. Vital converted a contested driving layup to surpass his previous career high of 18 points and hand the Huskies a 50-36 lead.

For the first time this season, the Huskies didn't have to overcome any adversity on the way to victory.

They owned the boards, holding a 52-32 edge, with Larrier leading the way with seven. They finished shooting 46.3 percent from the field.

They gradually increased the tempo to Ollie's liking, leading to 17 fast break points. And they received contributions from numerous offensive sources, including Larrier (11 points), Anderson (11) and Adams (12). Redshirt freshman guard Alterique Gilbert added nine points, six rebounds and six assists.

Vital is glad that he talked with Ollie and Adams.

"I was definitely disappointed in myself...," Vital said. "I was in a little bit of a slump the first two games, stats don't lie. I was able to just relax, sit down and talk with my support system, talk with God a little bit, too. Just focus on the right things and get my mind back on track. Then I was able to help the team tonight.''

The bench, led by Vital's 30, finished with 49 points overall compare to BU's nine.

Reserve big man Eric Cobb sprained his right ankle in the first half and sat out the remaining of the game. His injury doesn't appear serious. He will go for an x-ray on Monday.

g.keefe@theday.com

UConn's Terry Larrier, left, looks to pass while being pressured by Boston University's Tyler Scanlon during the first half of Sunday's game at the XL Center in Hartford. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
UConn's Terry Larrier, left, looks to pass while being pressured by Boston University's Tyler Scanlon during the first half of Sunday's game at the XL Center in Hartford. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

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