UConn men escape with victory against USF

South Florida's Stephan Jiggetts (0) gets tangled with UConn's Christian Vital during the second half of the Huskies' 68-65 win at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs on Wednesday night. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
South Florida's Stephan Jiggetts (0) gets tangled with UConn's Christian Vital during the second half of the Huskies' 68-65 win at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs on Wednesday night. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Storrs — UConn took a long, winding and dangerous route to a victory on Wednesday.

The Huskies nearly veered off into a ditch several times.

They barely survived, narrowly beating American Athletic Conference cellar dweller South Florida, 68-65, before an announced Gampel Pavilion crowd of 6,636.

It wasn't very satisfying given the way UConn played.

"I'm not going to apologize for a win, I'm going to take a win," coach Kevin Ollie said. "But we didn't win the right way. Not the UConn way. We have to do a better job. I know these guys can do it. They proved it against Cincinnati."

The Huskies (12-12, 5-6), who snapped a three-game losing streak, lost by just eight to AAC leader Cincinnati on Saturday. But they struggled to knock off USF (8-17, 1-11), which has now dropped 11 of its last 12 games.

They did their best to keep the Bulls in the game right up until the final buzzer. They committed a turnover and missed three of four free throws in the final minute.

When junior Jalen Adams misfired on the second of two free throws to leave UConn ahead by just three, USF raced down the floor and freshman David Collins found space to launch a 3-pointer. But the potential game-tying shot bounced off the rim.

"It was a tough game, but we grinded it out and came out with a win," sophomore Christian Vital said. "That was the most important thing that we needed to end this night out, so we could know what it feels to win again.

"... We haven't got many breaks, but tonight was one of them. Hopefully, we can just find ways to win."

Adams led the charge with a game-high 19 points while Vital and redshirt junior Terry Larrier finished with 15 points apiece. USF's Terrence Samuel, a member of UConn's 2014 national championship team, missed all seven shots and went scoreless.

It was a strange game for the Huskies who despite posting their biggest halftime lead of the season (35-23) and converting a season-best 54.3 percent from the field found themselves in a dogfight. They also limited the Bulls to 37.7 percent shooting.

Poor rebounding was the major reason.

The Bulls, described by their own coach, Brian Gregory, as a terrible rebounding team, won the battle of the boards by a 36-27 margin. They turned 15 offensive rebounds into 24 second chance points.

UConn frontcourt players David Onuorah, Isaiah Whaley, Mamadou Diarra combined for just one rebound in 38 minutes. Freshman Josh Carlton led the way with six.

"Our inconsistency with the rebounds is alarming," Ollie said. "And it's bad. And we've got to do better. We can't have seven rebounds from our bigs. ... We had the game under control, but what kept them in the game was 15 offensive rebounds and 24 second chance points."

Still, UConn found a way to hold on.

The Huskies never trailed after taking a 20-19 lead with 6:25 left in the first half.

Every time their lead was in jeopardy in the second half, they answered with a big basket.

Clinging to a 54-53 edge, Vital drained two free throws, giving him nine of UConn's last 10 points, and Adams hit a jumper from the lane.

Up 60-57, UConn responded, with Vital sinking two free throws and Larrier sinking a shot-clock beating 3-pointer for an eight-point edge with 2:35 remaining.

It was still a white knuckle ride to the finish.

"We just got complacent," Adams said. "Once we got up, guys kind of relaxed and that's when they started attacking on the offensive rebounding glass and getting chance after chance."

Vital missed two free throws, Adams turned the ball over and Adams made just one of two free throws, all in the final minute. USF's Isaiah Manderson (15 points) scored inside to cut the gap to 67-65, but Collins couldn't convert his three-pointer.

The Huskies, who came into the game leading the AAC in free throw percentage (76.1), made just 14 of 22.

A relieved and happy bunch of Huskies walked off the court.

"We definitely can't complain about a win, so we'll take it whether it's by one, two or 20," Adams said. "Definitely happy that (Collins) missed that shot."



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