Cobb's play a pleasant surprise for UConn men's basketball team

UConn forward Eric Cobb (0) reacts after making a 3-pointer during the Huskies' upset win over then-No. 15 Syracuse last Thursday in the 2K Empire Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
UConn forward Eric Cobb (0) reacts after making a 3-pointer during the Huskies' upset win over then-No. 15 Syracuse last Thursday in the 2K Empire Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Hartford — Eric Cobb's post-basketball practice interview ended in his usual friendly manner.

"Can I get my handshake?" Cobb asked the assembled media following Monday's workout at the XL Center.

Then Cobb warmly extended his big right hand to each reporter before departing.

A 6-foot-9, 249-pound senior forward from Jacksonville, Fla., Cobb acts like big teddy bear off the court. But he's turned into a grizzly bear on the court.

During UConn's two challenging 2K Empire Classic games at Madison Square Garden last week, Cobb had his coming out party. He averaged 14.5 points, 10 rebounds and went 13 for 18 from the field while facing nationally-ranked Syracuse and Iowa, landing on the all-tournament team. He also joined teammate Jalen Adams on the American Athletic Conference weekly honor roll.

Cobb's inspired play is one of the pleasant surprises through four games for the Huskies (3-1), who host Cornell (3-2) on Tuesday (7 p.m., SNY) at the XL Center.

Coach Dan Hurley has seen two different sides of Cobb.

"Eric's got a funny personality," Hurley said. "He's real quiet. He gives me a lot of short answers. Then on game nights, there's a switch that flips. He gets juiced up. On game nights, something happens there where he has a different intensity.

"Did we see it coming to the level at the Garden? Probably not. But he's flashed moments. ... For him, can you now add defensive rebounding and defense to giving us that type of offense? If he does, then we've really found something."

Cobb had a quiet first season at UConn, losing four games to an ankle injury and sitting out 10 games due to a suspension for conduct detrimental to the team. He saw limited action in 15 games, averaging j1.7 points and 2.7 rebounds.

During the off-season, Cobb underwent a transformation, changing his attitude and eating habits as well as improving his work ethic.

He traded wings for salads and ended up dropping almost 40 pounds.

"From over the summer, there was no days off," Cobb said. "We did a lot of running. It just transferred over to the court in game situations."

After scoring just eight points and grabbing two rebounds in the first two games, Cobb had a breakout performance in an upset of Syracuse on Thursday with 13 points and a career-high 13 rebounds. Then he had a career-best 16 points and added seven rebounds in a lopsided loss to Iowa on Friday.

"I just got my mind right before the game, that's what happened," Cobb said.

After career nights, Cobb was bombarded with congratulatory messages from family and friends.

He's remaining humble.

"It was crazy," Cobb said. "People were coming out of the woodwork. But at the end of the day, I've got to stay true to myself and keep working and just bring a major impact to the team. I'm just focusing on winning."

It was a revealing two games in New York.

One night after an inspired performance against Syracuse, UConn stumbled badly against Iowa. The Huskies have practiced well since returning to Storrs.

Cornell (3-2), a member of the Ivy League, presents an entirely different challenge. The Big Red runs a disciplined Princeton-style offense, leaning on senior guard Matt Morgan, a sharpshooter averaging 25 points per game and converting 48.8 percent (21-for-43) from beyond the arc.

"You've got to respect all your opponents," Hurley said. "You handle your scouting the same exact way. Otherwise, you set your team up for a letdown, so all of our preparation is the same. For me, I just want to see a fiery team. We're going to make mistakes. We're going to struggle in certain points with some different things that we're just not real good at right now.

"We were flat on Friday. You can attribute it whatever you want to. You play the rivalry game on Thursday night, the highest of highs, and then on Friday night I wasn't able to get that edge back. I wasn't able to frame the game to get them excited again. So I want to see that fire that we played the first three games and the intensity. That's number one."

g.keefe@theday.com

UCONN vs. CORNELL

Location: XL Center, Hartford

Tip: 7 p.m. (SNY)

Records: UConn 3-1, Cornell 3-2

Last game: UConn lost to Iowa, 91-72, Friday; Cornell won at NJIT, 86-73, Saturday

Probable starters: Cornell, 6.2 sr. guard Matt Morgan (25.4 pts, 7.8 rebs), 6-2 so. guard Terrance McBride (4.6 pts), 6-4 sr. guard Troy Whiteside (5 pts), 6-8 jr. forward Josh Warren (5.6 pts, 3 rebs), 6-6 sr. forward Steven Julian (3.4 pts, 5.2 rebs)

UConn, 6-3 sr. guard Jalen Adams (18 pts), 6-0 redshirt so. guard Alterique Gilbert (13.8 pts, 5 assists), 6-2 jr. guard Christian Vital (8.5 pts, 4.8 rebs), 6-8 so. forward Tyler Polley (7.8 pts, 3.3 rebs), 6-10 so. forward Josh Carlton (7.3 pts, 3.3 rebs)

Noteworthy: First of five straight home games and regular season opener at XL Center. ... Series: Tied 1-1 overall, with UConn winning last meeting, 75-63, in Dec. 1964. ... Big Red picked to finish sixth in Ivy League preseason poll. ... Cornell wins over Binghamton, SUNY-Canton and NJIT. ... Top reserve: 6-8 so. forward Jimmy Boeheim, son of Syracuse's Hall of Fame coach, averages 15.0 pts, 5.2 rebs. ... Stat to watch: 3-pointers. Cornell converts 7.8 per game, Morgan sinks 48.8 percent. ... Expect graduate transfer Tarin Smith to defend top scorer Morgan. ... Hot: Adams shooting 51.9 percent from field. Cold: Huskies averaging 15 turnovers per game. ...  UConn's Dan Hurley and Cornell's Brian Earl two of five sets of brothers coaching Division I. Earl's brother Dan at VMI. ... Up next: UConn hosts New Hampshire at noon Saturday in Hartford.

— Gavin Keefe

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