UConn men feed off crowd and cruise past Wichita State
Storrs — During the national anthem Saturday night, coach Dan Hurley allowed his eyes to wander around at a sold-out crowd at Gampel Pavilion.
"You're obviously respectful of the anthem, but you can't wait for it to be over to start playing and get the crowd in," Hurley said. "You could just feel the energy in the huddle and in the guys. That's what it should look like at UConn when you have a basketball game. It's special here. The crowd was unbelievable tonight. Our guys certainly responded and love playing here."
"... It lit a match for us. We were pretty determined coming in. When you get a crowd like that at home, it's hard not to perform at a high level."
The energized Huskies (12-8, 3-4) turned in a terrific all-around team effort while thrashing Wichita State 80-60 in the American Athletic Conference. They never trailed, led by as many as 26 and cruised to their second straight double-digit home victory. They have a two-game winning streak for the first time in over a month.
Earlier this week, Hurley challenged his guards to be outstanding and they responded. Senior Jalen Adams played the role of maestro, contributing 19 points and a team-high 12 rebounds for his first double-double this season while junior Christian Vital finished with a game-high 21 points to go with five rebounds and five assists.
Hurley joked that Vital's zero turnovers must have been a typo on the stat sheet. More like a sign that Vital is playing under control.
An active Josh Carlton is trending in a positive direction, too, scoring in double figures for the third time in four games. He fed off the crowd with 11 points, six rebounds and a career-high tying four blocks.
"When you get a crowd like that, it just makes the game a lot easier," Carlton said.
The Huskies received a scare about five and a half minutes into the second half when redshirt sophomore Alterique Gilbert ran into a hard screen and crumpled to the floor. Gilbert stayed down while team trainer James Doran checked him out.
Gilbert eventually got up and walked off the court and didn't return. He injured his left shoulder, the same one that he's had two surgeries on while at UConn.
"I think he's going to be fine," Hurley said. "He'll get some type of test. But the early prognosis is day to day and not a long term-thing ... disaster averted there."
Watching Gilbert leave temporarily shook the Huskies, who watched their lead shrink to 12 (60-48). Then Adams took over, converting a runner. Reserve Tarin Smith buried a 3-pointer. And Adams scored again to up the lead to 68-50 with seven minutes left.
"He wasn't able to come back in the game but he helped us a lot to get that lead," Vital said of Gilbert. "So, at that point, it was on us to make sure we finished the game for him."
The Huskies dominated from the start, scoring the game's first 10 points and racing out to a 30-12 lead. The Shockers (8-11, 1-6), losers of seven of their last eight, missed their first 10 shots and didn't make a field goal for the first seven minutes.
Vital's deep buzzer-beating 3-pointer pushed the lead to 43-28 at halftime. He had 14 points in the first half and made a season-high five shots out of eight attempts overall from beyond the arc.
UConn held the rebuilding Shockers to 33.8 percent from the field. Sophomore Tyler Polley (12 points) helped limit AAC co-scoring leader Markis McDuffie to just nine points — well under his 19.2 points per game average — on 4-for-14 shooting. The Huskies easily won the rebounding battle 47-32.
"That was a pretty solid thumping they put on us," Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. "I thought Danny's team played really well in all phases, especially his guards. I've watched Jalen Adams a lot in the last two years and that maybe was the best I've seen him play."
The comfortable second half advantage allowed Hurley to go deep into his bench. Redshirt sophomore Mamadou Diarra made his season debut, going one for two from the field in just over four minutes of action. He's had chronic knee issues and worked his way back from off-season knee surgery.
"He's obviously been dealt a brutal hand with his health," Hurley said. "It was just good to see him just get in there."