UConn's Smith begins his birthday with a root canal

UConn's Tarin Smith (2) goes up against Connor Bennett of UMass Lowell (35) during the game on Nov. 27 at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs. (AP Photo/Stephen Dunn)
UConn's Tarin Smith (2) goes up against Connor Bennett of UMass Lowell (35) during the game on Nov. 27 at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs. (AP Photo/Stephen Dunn)

Storrs — Tarin Smith had a memorable and uncomfortable 23rd birthday on Thursday.

He went to the dentist and had a root canal after chipping a front tooth in UConn's rout of Lafayette on Wednesday.

The "weird" accident happened about midway through the first half when Smith ran into teammate Tyler Polley.

Smith, a graduate transfer, remained in the game.

"It didn't (hurt)," said Smith, whose mouth was still a bit numb on Thursday afternoon from the Novocaine. "I felt it when it happened. I just felt around my mouth and felt that I had no tooth. That happened before when I was real little, so I just kept playing."

The most painful part came when his parents found out.

"My mother wasn't too happy about it," Smith said. "They sent me a couple of bad messages after the game. ... She was just mad at me. She's been telling me to wear a mouthpiece since I started playing basketball as a kid. We'd go back and forth and fight. And I'd never do it."

Smith will be wearing a mouth guard on Saturday when UConn faces No. 11 Florida State in the second game of the Never Forget Tribute Classic doubleheader at the Prudential Center in Newark. Game time is 6:30 p.m.

Smith, who's from Ocean Township, N.J., is looking forward to heading back home. He attended St. Anthony High School in Jersey City and played for Bob Hurley, Sr.

"I probably have a bunch of people coming. I went to high school not too far from there. I'm excited about it. It's going to be a big time game. This is the reason why you come here to play in games like this."

First, Smith planned to return to the dentist on Friday to have a crown put on his chipped tooth.

Polley's ties with FSU

• Once upon a time, Tyler Polley thought he might follow in his father's footsteps and attend Florida State. His father, Tommy, was an All-American linebacker there and spent six seasons playing in the NFL.

"I went to a lot of (FSU) football games growing up," Polley said.

Polley, a sophomore from Miramar, Fla., had interest in playing basketball for the Seminoles. But he ended up at UConn instead.

"During the recruiting process, I thought I was actually going to go there, but they never offered me, so that was out of the picture," Polley said. "There was a connection. But I guess they didn't see anything in me. Hey, it's whatever."

Diarra on the mend

• UConn is taking a cautious approach with redshirt sophomore Mamadou Diarra, who's working his way back from knee surgery.

There's a chance to 6-foot-8 forward out of Putnam Science Academy could return for the American Athletic Conference opener at South Florida on Jan. 2.

Diarra is participating in light drills.

"It's probably going to take him a little bit more time just to get all the way fully caught up and healthy," Hurley said. "He's got some more work to do before he's really ready for live competition. He's got a shot at (the AAC opener). We just don't want him back too soon. He's had such a tough history with it, we want to make sure he's right."

Diarra appeared in 31 games last season, starting five. He averaged 2.7 points and 2.5 rebounds in 10.1 minutes per game. Knee issues forced him to sit his freshman year.

News and notes

• Senior forward Phil Cofer, FSU's leading scorer last season, returned to practice this week after missing the first eight games with a right foot injury. It's unclear whether Cofer will be available to play against the Huskies but is expected to be in uniform. ... UConn and Florida reportedly agreed to a home and home non-conference series, starting next season in Storrs and ending in Gainesville during the 2020-21 season. ... The Huskies will leave for Newark on Friday and stay in Jersey City, where Hurley was born and raised. ... The first game of Saturday's doubleheader will pit Clemson against No. 22 Mississippi State.

g.keefe@theday.com

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