Mistake-prone UConn stumbles in showdown with Syracuse
New York — Call them the Not Ready for Prime Time Huskies.
Another shot to secure a marquee win on the big stage slipped away on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
UConn stumbled out of the gate and never fully recovered, losing to former Big East rival Syracuse, 72-63, in the Jimmy V Classic before a lively Madison Square Garden crowd of 17,532.
The Huskies (6-3) never led after the first few minutes and made too many mistakes to overcome a double digit deficit.
"Once again, we dug ourselves too big of a hole," coach Kevin Ollie said. "We didn't come out with the defensive effort from the first half. ... The second half, we started getting stops and got back in the game but it was a little bit too late."
UConn's other two losses this season came against Michigan State and Arkansas, each by at least 20 points. Its only quality win was against Oregon.
It wasn't matter of Syracuse (7-1) dominating the game on Tuesday night.
Yes, the Orange did damage inside, owning 37-26 rebounding edge and scoring 17 second chance points. They also took advantage of UConn's frequent foul problem, outscoring their foes 24-16 from the foul line. Redshirt freshmen Matthew Moyer (a career-high 18 points, eight rebounds), who entered the game averaging 2.4 points, and freshman Oshae Brissett (16 points, 10 rebounds) had a Garden party under the basket.
"Both teams played incredibly hard," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "A lot of missed shots, missed opportunities. Some bad turnovers both ways. But both teams played as hard as you can play."
Syracuse left the door open in the second half but the Huskies couldn't capitalize. UConn got no closer than seven.
Prolonged offensive droughts and defensive lapses continue to haunt UConn.
"It's not youth," Ollie said. "We have to grow up. It's taking care of the basketball. It's playing hard with energy. One of our spurts, Christian (Vital) just played like he wanted to win the game ... And that's what it's going to have to be like.
"... We can't be in the mindset if I don't score, I don't play defense. We just have to have more consistent with that with all of our players, from one to 13. It can't be about the offensive end, it's got to be about the defensive end. And then we've got to rebound. ... We turned the ball over, the first half, like we weren't prepared against their zone... It was like we've never seen a zone before."
It started poorly for the Huskies.
They committed 13 of their 17 turnovers in the first half against an active and athletic zone. They had four in their first five possessions. They were out-matched on the boards.
The deficit stood at 40-29 at the break.
"We knew what we were getting into," junior Jalen Adams said. "We knew our match-ups and we knew they had large length. I think we just kind of got too excited in the first half and were reckless with the ball. In the second half, we toned it down. But we still had too many costly turnovers."
Adams finished with a team-high 22 points. Sophomore Christian Vital had 17 points and five rebounds and redshirt junior Terry Larrier added 14 points with both Huskies playing in their homecoming game.
The Huskies gradually came to life after falling behind, 55-38, when sophomore Tyus Battle (22 points) hit a foul line jumper.
When Vital converted a driving layup and Larrier hit a free throw, the deficit was just eight (62-54) with just under seven minutes remaining.
But the Huskies self-destructed.
After forcing a Syracuse turnover, redshirt freshman Mamadou Diarra, who fouled out for the third straight game, missed two free throws.
Down nine, the Huskies misfired on three straight shots in one trip. Then Adams threw away the ball for a turnover.
That about summed up the way the game went for the Huskies, who made just four field goals and went 4-for-8 from the line in the final 9:20.
"It was right there," Ollie said. "We've got to take those opportunities and run with them. But then it comes down to getting stops and rebounding. No matter what we did, we didn't do that consistently."
UConn heads home where it will host Coppin State on Saturday in Storrs before the exam break. The Huskies will have to wait until Dec. 21 for their next shot at a marquee win, traveling to Arizona.
The Huskies continue to be without starting guard Alterique Gilbert (shoulder) who missed his third straight game. Still no timetable for his return.
Post game reaction from UConn coach Kevin Ollie, Christian Vital and Jalen Adams pic.twitter.com/gkl7hvGWPA— Gavin Keefe (@GavinKeefe) December 6, 2017
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