UConn escapes with overtime win over Columbia
Storrs — UConn never anticipated being in a fight to the final frantic seconds on Wednesday night.
Not against Columbia, a team picked to finish fifth in the Ivy League.
Faced with the possibility of a shocking upset loss, the Huskies responded, battling back from a 15-point in the second half and posting a 77-73 overtime win despite being without three players.
Forget about style points.
The Huskies (5-2) badly needed a win coming off a brutal 35-point loss to Arkansas on Sunday in the PK80 Invitational in Portland.
"We definitely couldn't let it slip away," junior Jalen Adams said. "As long as we get the win, we're happy. Obviously, we want to beat teams by more just so we can work on our stuff once we get up a little bit.
"I personally don't mind these games. It shows character throughout the whole team. There were several times in the second half where we could have given up. At one point, we were down 15. Everybody just stuck together."
The Huskies found their inner toughness just in time to break a two-game losing streak. They turned up the defensive pressure after a lackadaisical first half and received important contributions from several players.
Sophomore Christian Vital, the ex-St. Thomas More guard, led the charge, finishing with a game-high 29 points. Graduate transfer Antwoine Anderson had 14 points while Adams added 11 points, seven assists and six rebounds, redshirt freshman Mamadou Diarra had career bests in points (11) and rebounds (10) before fouling out. Redshirt junior Terry Larrier had eight points and a career-best 14 rebounds.
The Huskies hit a season-high tying 10 3-pointers. Vital had a career-best seven.
"They toughed it out," coach Kevin Ollie said. "We had a tough stretch in Portland the last three halves. To get back on the plane, fly back commercial and do all the things that they did, to get up and fight like this, they could have easily given in. But they didn't.
"Proud of the guys. Everybody contributed and it was a great team win."
The Huskies trailed for over 36 minutes and faced a 10-point deficit with nine and a half minutes remaining. They took their first lead since 2-0 on Vital's two free throws with 2:16 left in regulation at 61-60.
They finally shut down Columbia's 3-point shooting. After the Lions (1-5) made seven of their first 10, they connected on just 3 of their last 19 attempts. Columbia went 12-for-39 from the field after halftime.
After Anderson converted two free throws and Vital buried a 15-footer to give UConn a 75-71 edge lead with 54 seconds left in overtime, the Huskies still had to work to do to hold on.
Columbia came out a timeout with 4.5 seconds left trailing by two. But Vital stripped Patrick Tape near the basket and stole the ball. Vital, who played with a sore right shoulder, closed out the win with two free throws.
"My shoulder was hurting the whole game," Vital said. "But my team needed me."
The Huskies needed Adams, too, to shake off a sore ankle and overcome a rocky 1-for-9 shooting start. Adams fueled the comeback, scoring nine points in the final seven and a half minutes of regulation. His short jumper in the lane with 20 seconds left tied the score at 65-all and forced overtime.
From there, the Huskies gradually took over playing before one of the smallest crowds in Gampel Pavilion history (3,808).
Anderson opened the overtime by burying a 3-pointer. But Columbia stuck around, tying the score at 71-all on Mike Smith's 3-pointer. Two free throws by Anderson put the Huskies in front for good, 73-71, with 1:39 remaining.
"We just never gave up," Diarra said. "We knew we just needed to get some stops. They were going to slow down eventually from the 3-point line. They were making almost every shot. We just knew we had to stick with it."
UConn played without starting guard Alterique Gilbert (shoulder) and reserve forward Eric Cobb, who missed his fourth straight game with a high ankle sprain. Freshman reserve Isaiah Whaley also sat out after having two wisdom teeth pulled on Tuesday.
UConn coach Kevin Ollie talks about Christian Vital and Mamadou Diarra, two key players in OT win over Columbia pic.twitter.com/60PLgBMaer— Gavin Keefe (@GavinKeefe) November 30, 2017
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