UConn men fall to Temple in 2 OT
Philadelphia — UConn walked the tightrope on Thursday, balancing between a sweet victory and a painful defeat.
The Huskies took too many missteps to win the heart-thumping battle.
Their valiant effort fell short, as they lost to Temple, 93-89, in double overtime in an American Athletic Conference thriller at the Liacouras Center.
It was their seventh loss by four points or less and 10th defeat by single digits. They dipped to 1-4 in overtime games.
“We’re just not quite good enough yet…,” coach Dan Hurley said. “We battled but we just didn’t play well enough, nor do we have enough to be who we want to be right now. From a heart standpoint, those guys have been awesome. They’ve battled their tail off.
“... Close losses just mean we’re a whole lot better and we’re getting a lot closer. We’re not quite there as a program but we’re close.''
The Huskies played inspired basketball, rallying from an eight point deficit late in the second half to force overtime. They trailed by four in the first overtime before extending the game again. And they jumped out to a four-point advantage in the second overtime.
But they just couldn’t finish off the Owls (14-12, 6-7), who seized the lead for good with two minutes, 51 seconds remaining when junior Nate Pierre-Louis (23 points, 14 rebounds) buried two free throws.
The loss was more encouraging than deflating for the Huskies (14-12, 5-8), who understand tough days like Thursday are part of the program’s rebuilding process. They’re down to eight scholarship players after losing starter Akok Akok to a season-ending injury in Sunday’s win over Memphis.
“It was super tough, battling with eight guys and going to double OT,” junior Isaiah Whaley said. “I’m just happy how everybody fought and kept fighting throughout the whole game.”
Making his first start since his freshman season, Whaley played a terrific game while battling foul trouble, finishing with career-highs in points (18) and rebounds (14). Senior Christian Vital had 21 points and eight rebounds while freshman James Bouknight added 16 points and freshman Jalen Gaffney had 12 points and a career-best nine assists.
Whaley helped spark a frantic comeback late in regulation, as UConn rallied from a 65-57 deficit with 3:39 left by riding a 12-4 run to force overtime. He converted inside the lane with five seconds left to tie the game at 69-all.
“I’ve been working on that shot forever…,” Whaley said. “I knew it was going in.”
It took some heroics from both teams to keep extending the game.
In the first overtime, Bouknight finished off a three-point play and then Gaffney made two free throws with 29 seconds remaining to give the Huskies an 80-77 edge.
But red-shirt junior Monty Scott, who finished with a career-best 25 points off the bench, buried a tough 3-pointer with 22 seconds left to forge a tie. UConn misfired on two potential game-winning chances.
So the game headed for the second overtime.
The Huskies were in great position, taking a quick four-point lead and then forcing a turnover. But they couldn’t cash in on the big opportunity.
And the Owls surged in front with an 11-2 spurt and finally put the Huskies away. UConn went just 7 for 22 from the field in the two overtimes while Temple was 7 for 14.
“Obviously, a tough loss,” Hurley said. “A really hard-fought game. Two desperate urgent teams. .. Both teams really battled and made plays down the stretch of the game. Loved how we fought but we’ve done that the whole year, so I wasn’t surprised by our response.”
UConn built a double digit lead early in the first meeting on Jan. 29 in Storrs on the way to a 78-63 decision.
It was a far different game on Thursday with UConn playing on the road where it had won just one game this season.
The two teams traded gut-punches throughout the tight game. The Huskies led by as many as 10 and trailed by as many as eight. They were down, 36-33, at halftime.
Foul trouble hurt UConn, especially in the frontcourt. Starter Josh Carlton picked up two fouls in the first 44 seconds of the game.
Whaley, UConn’s most effective inside player, went to the bench with his fourth foul with about 14 minutes left in regulation but avoided his fifth.
Hurley had to get creative with his lineup. At times, he used four guards and either Whaley or Carlton.
The Huskies finished with 18 turnovers and shot 39 percent from the field.
They will show up ready to fight again on Sunday.
“(Coach Hurley) is going to push us and make us fight through these games,” Bouknight said. “Even though they’re tough, we’re just going to keep competing and keep fighting until we get it right.''
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