Shorthanded UConn men fight off fatigue, beat East Carolina
Hartford — With only six scholarship players available, UConn's biggest enemy on Sunday just may have been fatigue.
The Huskies fought off tired legs and a few comeback attempts from East Carolina over the course of the American Athletic Conference men's basketball game before 5,676 fans at the XL Center.
"Some of our guys said they couldn't feel their legs," coach Kevin Ollie said.
Yet they managed to survive, pulling out a feel-good 72-65 victory.
Adversity has been a constant companion this season. The latest obstacle: reserves Steven Enoch (stress reaction, right foot) and Juwan Durham (sprained left foot) both were sidelined. They're considered day-to-day.
"It's just tough, man," said Facey, who wore ice bags on both knees after the game. "But we continue to fight with the guys that we do have."
The remaining healthy Huskies (8-11, 3-4) responded with a gritty effort.
They received contributions from all six players, with four scoring in double figures. Sophomore Jalen Adams led the way with 19 points, five rebounds and five assists, followed by seniors Rodney Purvis (16 points), Kentan Facey (13 points, 10 rebounds) and Amida Brimah (13 points, four blocks). It was Facey's third double-double in the last four games and fourth overall.
Freshman Christian Vital, UConn's only reserve, chipped in eight points, a career-high seven rebounds and four assists. Freshman Vance Jackson added three points and eight rebounds.
"It was a great game," Ollie said. "We had six guys, but those guys played significant minutes. They did a beautiful job staying connected, playing with pride, respecting the jersey. We had four guys in double figures. It was a real complete game defensively."
East Carolina (9-11, 1-6), which has lost six straight, also played shorthanded. Leading scorer B.J. Tyson was sidelined with an injury and assistant Michael Perry replaced head coach Jeff Lebo, who's recovering from hip surgery.
A strong start propelled UConn into the lead.
Trailing 14-13, the Huskies went on a 21-0 blitz. Adams started it off with a driving basket and Purvis cashed in a turnover with a dunk off a fast break. Jackson's 3-pointer forced East Carolina to call a timeout.
"We came out aggressive regardless of the amount of guys we had," Facey said. "We came out with a great run and that carried over for us to win the game."
They cranked up their transition game and dominated the glass. Adams converted a 3-point play to push the gap to 34-14. The Pirates, the AAC's worst offensive team, missed 12 straight shots and didn't score for almost eight minutes.
"We shared the ball and we fed our bigs and they were scoring down low," Purvis said. "We got rebounds and we got stops. We were able to get out in transition and that's playing to our strength."
The Huskies got a little too comfortable with the lead and the Pirates responded with a 13-0 spurt to close the gap.
Leading 38-28 at intermission, Purvis reminded his teammates that they had blown a 14-point second half lead in a 72-69 loss at Georgetown on Jan. 14.
With that in mind, the Huskies scored their first three trips in the second half. They answered every run from East Carolina, which cut the gap to seven three times.
They finished with their second highest field goal percentage this season, converting 54 percent. They won the rebounding battle, 37-34, and limited the Pirates to 37.7 percent from the field.
It almost looked like the Huskies might lose Jackson, who landed hard on the floor after diving over the press table under the basket right before halftime. But Jackson recovered and returned to play.
"I kind of was (scared)," Purvis said. "He's from Pasadena, those guys are kind of soft. I thought he was going to hurt himself. We had to give him a band aid for a cut."
As a reward for their hard work and win, Ollie is giving the Huskies the day off on Monday. Their next game is Wednesday at South Florida.
"They're not going to see me," Ollie said. "They deserve that."