UConn lose Adams early and falls to No. 17 SMU 69-61
Hartford — Near the UConn huddle during a late timeout on Saturday, sophomore Jalen Adams sat on the bench with his head bowed and sprained left ankle tapped.
There was nothing Adams, the team's heartbeat, could do to stop the Huskies from losing their American Athletic Conference showdown with No. 17 Southern Methodist before a season-high crowd of 13,553 at the XL Center.
Final: SMU 69, UConn 61.
The Huskies just can't seem to catch a break this season.
"We've been battling (injuries) all season," freshman Christian Vital said. "It feels like every game it's something else."
It's hard to say whether the outcome would have been different if Adams hadn't missed the last 23 minutes. The first-place Mustangs (25-4, 15-1) have won 21 of their last 22 games, including 11 straight.
"Nobody wanted Jalen to get hurt, especially Jalen, but it happens," coach Kevin Ollie said. "We've got to stay back in the boat and we've got to keep rowing the same way. I think our guys did that. They could have hung their heads again but this group has got a lot of toughness. The pursuit of not giving up is what I try to teach them each and every day."
Ollie called the point guard's injury a moderate sprain. Adams went for x-rays after the game.
Even without Adams, the Huskies remained competitive before fading late. Senior Kentan Facey finished with 15 points and nine rebounds while Vital and fellow freshman Vance Jackson each scored 14 points.
The Huskies (14-14, 9-7) would love to play SMU again with a healthy Adams. That could happen in the AAC tournament.
With two regular season games to go, they're fighting for one of five first-round byes in the conference tournament. They're tied for fourth with Central Florida, one-half game ahead of sixth-place Memphis.
With Saturday's loss, the Huskies fell to 0-5 this season against the top three in the AAC.
Jackson made a bold statement about a potential rematch with SMU, which swept the regular season series, winning the first game by 20 on Jan. 19.
"I'm super confident," Jackson said. "It's a guarantee win when we play them next time. Our team believes and our coach believes that we're going to get it done."
If there is a "next time," UConn must avoid going down the same dead end path.
The Huskies fell into a double-digit hole early on and never fully recovered. The Mustangs turned a 4-1 deficit into a 14-4 lead with a 13-0 run. SMU converted nine of 13 3-pointers before intermission and went 10-for-21 overall.
A confident Shake Milton drained six of his first seven attempts from beyond the arc, sparking SMU to a 31-15 lead with 8:04 left.
The Huskies chased from there.
Then Adams limped off the court for good with three minutes left in the first half, heading to the locker room with trainer James Doran.
UConn trailed 41-30 at intermission and Milton already had 18 of his game-high 20 points. The deficit was 45-32 with 17:16 left in the game.
"It definitely changes things, obviously," Vital said. "Everyone knows that Jalen is one of our better players and one of our play-makers. To see him go down for a whole half, you could see that we struggled a little bit but the guys stayed together."
The Huskies climbed as close as five (57-52) when Purvis (11 points on 4-for-18 shooting) buried 3-pointer with 9:22 remaining. SMU called timeout.
"We're a poised team and competitive team by nature, so these guys don't crumble," SMU coach Tim Jankovich said. "We started to play really, really well from that point on on both ends."
SMU's Ben Emelogu scored on a baseline drive and then AAC player of the year candidate Semi Ojeleye (16 points) converted two foul shots after being fouled after grabbing an offensive rebound.
UConn went cold, going 5:22 without field goal.
Ollie had more of an issue with the defense than the offense during that defining stretch.
"We had a blow-by and somebody could have taken a charge, and they got a layup with eight seconds to go (on the shot clock)," Ollie said. "The threes were ill-advised and we can keep talking about that, but I really care about the defensive end.
"That's the toughness play that we have to make to beat these teams."
UConn won the battle of the boards (37-36) against a team that is ranked second in the country in rebound margin. Senior Amida Brimah grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds. But they didn't shoot the ball well enough (39.7 percent) or come up with enough defensive stops to pull off upset.
"Kentan and Amida played like warriors today, absolute warriors," Ollie said. "I challenged them and they took the challenge the right way."