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Huskies drop 70-67 overtime decision to Mustapha Heron and Auburn. Now stand at 5-6.

POSTED December 24, 2016
BY Timothy W. Gaffney
Twitter: @TimothyGaffney

HARTFORD: University of Connecticut men’s head basketball coach Kevin Ollie was very, very pleased with his team’s performance just five days ago, when they beat North Florida handily and attempted just nine, three pointers in an impressive victory that focused on the teams inside game.

Flash forward to their annual Christmas Eve, Eve game, this year against Auburn and his mood and reaction to his team’s performance that featured an astounding 28 trey attempts and it was a much different head coach who had just watched his team drop a 70-67 overtime decision to Auburn.

“Once again,” Ollie said. “It’s not a great formula when we take 28 threes’, make just four and give up 19 offensive rebounds. The guys are going to get away and have a good holiday and away from basketball but when we get back, we have to make sure we execute the game plan.”

UConn shot a miserable 23 for 65 for the game and continued to leave points at the free throw line, connecting on just 17 of 25. That three-point percentage equals out to an anemic 14.3 percent.

Rodney Purvis may have led the team with 20 points but it was on 5 for 22 shooting. Combine that with the 1 for 9 that freshman Vance Jackson shot and the two players running the frontcourt after Jalen Adams went out with 13 minutes left with a concussion and the numbers are awful at 6 for 31.

It had worked so much better against North Florida in the Huskies last game, makes you kind of scratch your head trying to figure out why the offense settled so badly for outside shots.

Kenton Facey, fresh off that career game five days back, was tremendous again with 15 points and a team high 14 rebounds. Steven Enoch, pressed into duty when center Amida Brimah got into foul trouble, was also strong inside scored eight while grabbing six boards in eight minutes.   

The Tigers, a young team from the SEC, brought with them a local favorite, Mustapha Heron and the former Sacred Heart star didn’t disappoint in his first meeting with a team that might have wanted him, if he had wanted to stay and play locally.

Heron scored 15 points, grabbed eight rebounds and showed off some of the moves and skills that made him so dominant in the Naugatuck Valley League but it was another freshman, a demonstrative (5’10”) guard named Jared Harper who made the biggest impact despite his size by scoring 22 points.

Harper made regular visits to the land of the talls underneath for UConn and often, came away with points or drew a foul.        

The 12,051 fans who showed up to watch this Friday matinee were certainly entertained and watched as the Huskies scored six points in the last 80-seconds of regulation to force the extra time.

Still, the lack of consistency on offense is the reason UConn has now lost six games (5-6) this year after not dropping their sixth game until January 28, 2016 before finishing with a mark of 25-11, a wishful thinking mark at this point if they can’t figure things out and use what works so well just five days ago.

“We need to feed our big guys,” Ollie said. “Kenton (Facey) is playing wonderful and Amida (Brimah) is playing wonderful. Those guys go 8 for 12 but that’s all the shots that they get. We have to change that.”   

For Auburn and head coach Bruce Pearl, this was a big win for a bunch of reasons.

“Growing up in Boston,” Pearl said. “I got a chance to see Jim Calhoun and watch him at Northeastern and see what he did at UConn and turned a regional program into a national power. So, winning against UConn means a lot more to me that it would to the average coach. As far as Auburn is concerned, we came to play in this two-game swing on the 21st and 23rd of December to try and get our program to become nationally relevant if we could. We beat a Final Four team in Oklahoma (at Mohegan Sun, 74-70) and we beat a four-time national champ in UConn.”

For one team, a great three days and two wins. For the other, two polar-opposite games over five days with a win and a loss to show for it.

The Huskies start American Athletic Conference play next Wednesday, December 28 when they host Houston right back at the XL Center.  


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