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No. 25 UConn tops UMass Lowell, 88-79

Hartford — Senior Omar Calhoun flexed his muscles after scoring on a foul-inducing driving layup on Sunday afternoon.

Calhoun couldn't resist.

"I made a strong move, so I felt like it was time to flex," said Calhoun, who completed the 3-point play. "All in the moment."

No. 25 UConn flexed its offensive muscles in a harder-than-expected 88-79 win over UMass Lowell at the XL Center. The Huskies (7-3) showed only a little rust from an eight-day exam break.

Their offensive firepower is a team strength so far this season. They are a significantly better in the scoring department than last season during which they averaged a paltry 64.1 points and shot 43.9 percent from the field.

They converted 13 of their first 16 shots and converted over 60 percent from the field for the second straight game, sinking a season-high 64 percent.

Hard work is at the root of UConn's offensive improvement and soaring confidence. The Huskies are averaging 79.9 points and shooting 50.3 percent through 10 games.

"We really put the work in, honestly," junior Rodney Purvis said. "I'm not going to sit here and say we're lucky or shots are just going in. Each and every day after practice, guys are getting shots up with the coaches and pulling the coaches aside for workouts. ... We're just helping each other grow and get better."

Purvis and Calhoun, who regularly compete against each other in 3-point shooting competitions during workouts, both had hot hands on Sunday and helped fend off the feisty River Hawks (4-7).

The only Husky to score in double figures every game this season, Purvis scored a season-high 28 points on 10-for-14 from the field, including a career-high tying five 3-pointers on eight attempts. Calhoun continued his torrid shooting, not missing an attempt from either the field (3-for-3) or foul line (7-for-7) while scoring 14 points off the bench.

In the last two games, Calhoun is 8-for-8 from the field and averaging 14 points.

"I'm confident in my game," Calhoun said. "I've been working hard. I know what I can do on both ends of the floor."

For the second game in a row, five Huskies scored in double figures. Sophomore Daniel Hamilton chipped in 12 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. Sterling Gibbs added 15 points and Shonn Miller had 10 points and six rebounds.

Defensively, the Huskies still need work. They gave up a season-high field goal percentage (50 percent) by an opponent.

They allowed a ton of open shots, watching 6-foot-2 Jahad Thomas (19 points) attack a soft interior and the River Hawks taking advantage of uncontested perimeter shots, making 12 3-pointers.

"Defensively, we struggled as a team," Hamilton said.

Because of defensive lapses, UConn failed to pull away. The Huskies trailed by as many as seven (20-13) before a late surge handed them a 43-37 lead the break. Purvis scored 18 points after intermission to keep the Huskies in front.

"Our guys didn't play with the intensity on defense that we need," coach Kevin Ollie said. "But, offensively, I thought we did a good job."

The Huskies missed the defensive presence of junior Amida Brimah, a shot-blocking center. He sat out with a testicular contusion suffered in the Ohio State game on Dec. 12, forcing Ollie to make a starting lineup change for the first time this season. Freshman guard Jalen Adams earned his first career start.

"He's one of the best defensive players in America, so it is definitely going to affect us...," Ollie said. "Guys have got to step up and play with a little bit more intensity. We can't give up 28 points in the paint. That would have been different if Amida is here."

Brimah is considered day to day. He may be ready for Wednesday's game against Central Connecticut State University.

"We just wanted to be real cautious with his injury," Ollie said. "It's on a very sensitive part of his body. ... Hopefully, he's back for Central. If he can't go, he'll be ready to go on the 29th against Texas. He's day to day, like all of us."

g.keefe@theday.com

Twitter: @GavinKeefe

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