UConn men roll past Tulane for rare convincing AAC win
Storrs — Comfortable wins are rare for UConn in the American Athletic Conference in recent years.
The Huskies haven't won a conference game by more than 11 points in nearly two years.
That streak ended on Saturday.
UConn never trailed, fought off a second-half challenge and then pulled away for an 87-71 victory over Tulane before 7,437 fans at Gampel Pavilion. It was their most lopsided AAC win since thumping South Florida by 46 on Feb. 8, 2017.
"It just tells us the type of team we can be and the type of team that we need to be," junior Christian Vital said. "We know how good we are. I know other people get frustrated, but we get more frustrated at ourselves. ... Hopefully, today was an indication of more things to come."
Coach Dan Hurley even got an opportunity to remove the game's two stars — senior Jalen Adams and sophomore Josh Carlton, who scored a season-high 31 points and a career-high 18 points, respectively — with 47 seconds left so they could receive a rousing ovation from the crowd.
Carlton continued his recent solid play, adding eight rebounds to tie Vital for the team lead. Vital had 18 points and became the 51st Husky to score his 1,000 career point. Alterique Gilbert added 12 points.
"Not exactly our finest week for UConn basketball, so a lot of pressure coming into this game," said Hurley, referring to the school's announcement Friday about the program's recommended self-imposed penalties in regard to its NCAA violations. "There's been a lot swirling around the program this week. It was just important for us to come out and play well and show some hope."
"Obviously, Jalen was the Jalen that we needed from tip to finish. ... It hasn't been the easiest week to be a UConn fan. Hopefully, today helped a little bit."
The win came against the worst team in the AAC. Tulane (4-13, 0-5) has lost a season-high seven straight.
It was about time for something good to happen for the Huskies (11-8, 2-4), who had dropped five of the previous six games. Credit Adams for giving his team a huge boost.
Adams is on tear, averaging 29 points in the last two games. The difference on Saturday was his points meant more than the baskets in a loss at Tulsa, many of which came with the Huskies down double digits. He lifted them out of an offensive rut.
UConn's advantage stood at 51-46 early in the second half. Right about that time, Hurley delivered a stern message to his team.
"Do you want to a have a season?" Hurley asked his players. "Do you want to be in last place at the end of this game? Do you want to give yourself a chance to have a season? ... Are we really going to do this right now? Are we going to lay down defensively like this?
"They took the message to heart and I thought we picked up our play."
An aggressive Adams took over.
Adams fueled a decisive 11-0 run by sinking three 3-pointers. He then converted a foul-inducing jumper and drained a free throw. He accounted for 12 of UConn's 14 points during the stretch and handed his team a 65-50 edge with 10 minutes left. The lead never dipped below 14 the rest of the way.
"Once they score two or three in a row, I always look over at Hurley and he gives me that eye contact to just go make a play and be one of our — as he calls — ballers," Adams said. "So that's what I try to do."
The Huskies played a cleaner game, committing a season-low eight turnovers. They also shot a sizzling 60.6 percent in the second half, 50.7 percent overall. They played without reserve Sidney Wilson who's dealing with a left foot and right thumb injuries. He's expected to be back for the next game on Saturday against Wichita State.
It was an important win for Huskies, who, starting with Tulane, play three out of the next four games against opponents with losing league records.
"Oh man, defeat would have been unimaginable," Hurley said. "The effort and the way we showed up and played, we owe it to ourselves because we work really hard and we owe it to our fans and the university to show up this way. ... The onus is on me to get us to show up like that every night. I've got to figure it out. That's why they brought me here."
UConn coach Dan Hurley’s post-game remarks after win over Tulane pic.twitter.com/k6dO87E8ns— Gavin Keefe (@GavinKeefe) January 19, 2019
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