UConn struggles, but eventually puts away Manhattan 61-46

UConn's Christian Vital, right, and Manhattan's Elijah Buchanan chase down a loose ball during the Huskies' 61-46 win on Saturday night in Storrs. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
UConn's Christian Vital, right, and Manhattan's Elijah Buchanan chase down a loose ball during the Huskies' 61-46 win on Saturday night in Storrs. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Storrs — Nasty habits, like prolonged stretches of bad basketball, persist.

Saturday's rocky performance served as another reminder that UConn has much work to do in order to reach its goals this season.

The Huskies eventually emerged from their post-exam break funk to beat Manhattan College, 61-46, at Gampel Pavilion.

UConn stumbled and bumbled its way through the non-conference game, playing some of their worst stretches of basketball this season. They scored a season low for points.

Good thing Manhattan (2-8) was the opponent on Saturday. Otherwise, the outcome might have been different.

"I'm happy with the fact we won," UConn coach Dan Hurley said. "It didn't feel great. We wanted to come out and play a much cleaner game than we played, especially offensively."

The Huskies (8-3) established a 10-point lead by halftime and basically took command from there. Their lead never dipped below double digits in the final 18 and a half minutes.

It was their seventh double digit win this season, already two more than last season.

Junior Christian Vital led the Huskies with 13 points, eight rebounds and a career-high seven steals while redshirt sophomore Alterique Gilbert had 12 points and sophomore Josh Carlton added 11 points and five rebounds. The Huskies shot just 37.5 percent from the field and had 17 turnovers. But they held Manhattan to 34.7 percent and forced 24 turnovers.

"It was a sloppy performance, a lot of turnovers," Gilbert said. "Not really a good flow for us in the game. Overall, not a good game for us."

Before practice on Friday, Hurley talked about the need to eliminate bad stretches that have hurt them this season, particularly in their three losses. Turnover trouble, in particular, has been a major issue.

Hurley also pointed to defensive and rebounding lapses.

"It's all the same things," Hurley said on Thursday. "We've just got to get better."

Apparently, the Huskies didn't get the message.

It may take awhile for the fans in attendance to erase the memory of a dreadfully ugly first half by both teams. UConn and Manhattan combined for more turnovers (20) than field goals (14).

Hardly a shocker that the Jaspers went cold. They came in shooting just 36 percent. But the Huskies, a 48 percent shooting team, looked lost against the zone, missing 11 straight shots at one point and going seven minutes, 41 seconds without a point. They went 8-for-29 from the field.

The Huskies found their competitive edge late in the half. Gilbert's two free throws started a decisive 10-0 spurt and put his team on top for good. Next, Vital nailed a three-pointer.

Carlton's basket capped the run and UConn went into locker room with a 25-15 lead at intermission. The total represented a season-low for first-half points for the Huskies. The Jaspers went without a field goal for the final 6:42.

At times, Hurley liked his team's effort and intensity in the second half. He enthusiastically applauded Vital for diving on the floor and forcing a jump ball that gave UConn possession.

Vital converted on the offensive end, handing UConn a 39-23 edge with 15:06 left.

A few minutes later, Gilbert was knocked down while sinking a 3-pointer and hit the free throw for a four-point play to increase the lead to 43-25.

The Huskies were never threatened after that basket.

"I did like how hard we played, how we guarded them and how hard we tried," Hurley said. "But the offensive end was just incredibly frustrating. .... Decision-making, being sloppy, laziness led to 17 turnovers. You can't have your three starting guards all have negative assist-to-turnover ratio and have 12 total (turnovers) between them."

Tempers flared with about nine minutes left. Heading into a timeout, UConn's Sidney Wilson and Manhattan's Pauli Paulicap exchanged heated words near midcourt. Both coaches arrived on the scene  as peacemakers. Both players ended up being assessed technical fouls.

UConn has one more game — Tuesday against Drexel in Hartford — to try to eliminate some bad habits before playing defending national champion Villanova on Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York.

For the next game, senior Jalen Adams might want to ditch the old school headband that he wore on Saturday. He battled foul trouble in the first half and finished a season-low two points on 1 for 4 shooting. It's his lowest offensive output since going scoreless his freshman year against SMU in March 2016.

Hurley was clearly unhappy with his star guard's effort.

"He's got to be more locked in," Hurley said. "He can't be pleased obviously with that type of performance. I'm not. That's so far away from his talent level, it's scary."

g.keefe@theday.com


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