Down to one healthy scholarship sub, UConn’s sixth man gave the Huskies all they could’ve hoped for and more on Wednesday night. Freshman Christian Vital scored a career-high 17 points off the bench to lead the Huskies to an 81-60 win over South Florida in Tampa Bay.
The Huskies have now won two straight and four of their last six, improving their record to 9-11 and 4-4 in the American Athletic Conference.
In jeopardy of facing what would have been yet another disappointing loss, Vital’s hot shooting provided the spark UConn needed in the second half. The freshman was 6-of-8 from the floor, including 5-of-7 from three, adding five steals, a pair of rebounds and an assist.
The Huskies failed to gain any significant separation from the Bulls in the first half, even briefly giving up the lead early in the second, but a Vital three put them up 48-44 with 14:26 to go and sparked an 18-9 run that put this one away for good. The Queens Village, NY native scored 11 of his 17 in the second half and hit his career high despite playing a team-low 24 minutes.
South Florida came into Wednesday’s contest with one of the worst turnover percentages in the country and UConn capitalized. The Huskies forced 17 turnovers, converting those into 22 points compared to just seven for the Bulls.
Jalen Adams kept the Huskies’ offense afloat in the first half, scoring a game-high 20 points to along with a game-best 12 assists. UConn finished the game with 19 assists on 26 made baskets and scored 1.306 points per possession.
After a strong start to the season, Vital’s performance had tapered off since the start of conference play. In the previous eight games, the freshman was averaging 7.0 points per game on .377 percent shooting and .310 percent from three. On Wednesday that confidence he displayed early in the year returned.
Vital wasn’t the only one feeling it from long range—as a team, UConn shot 60 percent from beyond the arc (12 for 20). Freshman sharpshooter Vance Jackson dropped 12 points, going 3-of-6 from the field and 2-of-4 from three.
Rodney Purvis rebounded from a dismal first-half performance, scoring 13 of his 14 points after the break. Kentan Facey added 12 points and five boards.
UConn returns home for a date with Tulane on Saturday night at 8 p.m. If the Huskies can get another win, they’ll head to No. 19 Cincinnati riding a three-game winning streak.