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Tulsa outlasts UConn 79-75 in overtime

Hartford — UConn seems to be trapped in a bad movie with a recurring nightmarish theme.

How Sunday’s American Athletic Conference game played out was all too familiar and predictable.

For the fourth straight game, the Huskies had an upset victory within reach and then watched it slip away, dropping a 79-75 overtime decision to AAC leader Tulsa before 10,509 fans at the XL Center.

“Obviously, tough loss,” coach Dan Hurley said. “It’s like tuning in to watch the same movie. Battle our tail off and just don’t have the ability down the stretch. … Tough locker room in there. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team go through a four-game stretch like this.”

It would be hard to find another college basketball team that has suffered four straight losses, all by six points or less, this season. The Huskies (10-9, 1-5) are off to their worst ever start in AAC play.

UConn recovered from a nine-point second half deficit and forced overtime when senior Christian Vital drained three clutch free throws with 3.4 seconds remaining. But Tulsa (14-6, 6-1), winners of five straight, never trailed after scoring the first six points of overtime.

“It’s definitely frustrating, knowing that we should have won the game and we lost the game,” freshman James Bouknight said. “It definitely hurts. … We’ve got to just move on and play. We can’t stay down too long and can’t sulk.”

Hurley relied heavily on his underclassmen. And they responded with inspired efforts.

Bouknight had 16 points and redshirt freshman Akok Akok had career bests in points (13) and blocks (seven) to go with seven rebounds while redshirt sophomore Sidney Wilson added 12 points and a career-high seven rebounds. Freshman Jalen Gaffney had eight points and five assists.

“The young guys are growing through the pain that we’re going through right now,” Hurley said. “It’s hard to grow without pain. Gaffney, Akok and Bouknight all showed an ability to eventually turn these types of games into victories along with Brendan (Adams) and Sid.

“They were our best players today and they gave us the type of effort that we could have definitely won with.”

Hurley added the Huskies won’t win many more games without better performances from veterans Alterique Gilbert, Josh Carlton and Vital, who shot a combined 5 for 23 from the field. Both Gilbert and Carlton sat on the bench for long stretches.

Tulsa threatened to run away from UConn in the second half, extending a five-point lead at intermission to nine. The Golden Hurricane held a 41-32 advantage with 13:40 left.

With Bouknight, Gaffney, Akok, Adams and Wilson on the court, the Huskies picked up some steam and bolted on a 12-0 run. Their trapping defense made life uncomfortable for the Golden Hurricane.

“We just had to bring energy that maybe some people were lacking,” said Bouknight, who battled a bloody nose and foul trouble. “We tried to play tough on both sides of the ball.”

Bouknight went into attack mode, scoring eight points during the comeback. His reverse layup handed the Huskies a 44-41 edge. It was their biggest lead since 15-11.

The game remained tight from there, as the lead changed hands seven times.

Senior Martins Igbanu (28 points, 10 rebounds), who was nearly unstoppable inside, converted two free throws to push Tulsa ahead, 61-58, with 49.8 seconds left.

Coming out of a timeout, Gaffney found Vital in the corner. Vital misfired on a 3-pointer but was fouled, setting up three pressure-packed foul shots in the closing seconds. After he made the first two, Tulsa called a timeout to try to rattle Vital.

It didn’t work. Vital converted the third attempt to force overtime.

The extra session belonged to Tulsa.

The Golden Hurricane scored the first six points and the Huskies never got closer than four.

Another hard-fought effort went for naught.

“You are what your record says you are,” Hurley said. “Obviously, our records indicates that we’re not a good team. We compete like a good team. We’re resilient like a good team. We’ve played NCAA caliber defense like a good team.

“At the offensive end, we just have so many deficiencies and flaws. Great effort, toughness and grit can’t make up for not having the ability to have a guy or two that down the stretch of a game that can just take over.”

News and notes

UConn went 9 for 33 from beyond the arc. The Huskies are 20 for 83 (24 percent) from 3-point land in the last four games. … Hurley was pleased with 18 assists and only 10 turnovers. … Faces in the crowd: Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun, Rodney Purvis and Edmund Saunders, two former Huskies. … Since the start of last season, UConn is 0-22 when trailing at half. ... The last time UConn started conference play — AAC or Big East — at 1-5 was the 1986-87 season, Calhoun’s first season in Storrs. … UConn shot 39.7 percent from the field, Tulsa 49.1. … Tulsa outscored UConn at the foul line, 24-12.

g.keefe@theday.com

 

 

 

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