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UConn Men’s Basketball Squeaks By Columbia in Overtime, 77-73

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Slightly undermanned due to injury, the Huskies survived another scare against a low-major opponent.

The UConn Men's Basketball team takes on the Columbia Lions at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, CT on November 29, 2017.
Christian Vital helped keep UConn alive in the early going. The sophomore finished with 29 points.
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

They hardly deserved it, but on Wednesday evening in front of a modest crowd of 3800 at Gampel Pavilion, the UConn Huskies clawed their way back into a hard-fought contest with Columbia and grabbed the win in overtime, 77-73.

Alterique Gilbert, Eric Cobb and Isaiah Whaley didn’t play in this one. Gilbert is day-to-day with a shoulder injury and Cobb missed his second game with an ankle injury while Whaley was out due to dental surgery earlier this week. To make matters worse, Jalen Adams was hobbled after twisting his ankle late in the first half. He went into the locker room but played through the pain in the second. This UConn team was not at full strength tonight and it showed.

Still, this was a very disheartening performance from the Huskies. The first half was a catastrophe on both ends of the court, with poor shot selection, lackluster defensive effort, and low energy overall. The visitors had a 40-31 edge at the break and it would have been more if it wasn’t for Christian Vital and Mamadou Diarra.

Vital had 17 points at the half and finished with 29 to go along with six rebounds. Diarra posted his first career double-double, with 11 points and 10 rebounds, four on the offensive glass. His low-post play was a breath of fresh air, especially as UConn was playing so terribly early on.

Terry Larrier, who was playing through a lingering ankle injury himself, did not have his best night, finishing with just eight points on 3-of-11 shooting from the field, though he did add 14 rebounds.

Columbia started the game 7-10 from behind the 3-point line as they built their sizeable lead, and continued to look like the better team well into the second half. UConn started to chip away at the lead but for the most part, the Lions kept the Huskies at bay until a 9-1 run cut it down to two with 4:33 left. Five of those points came from Adams, who did not look great early in the half but found a groove late.

Two minutes later, Vital hit two free throws to give UConn its first lead since it was 2-0 in the first minute. Adams needed to hit two buckets in the final 1:23, including a floater with 19 seconds left, to tie it up and send this one to overtime. He finished with a gutsy 11 points, seven assists and six rebounds.

The UConn Men's Basketball team takes on the Columbia Lions at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, CT on November 29, 2017.
Adams played hurt and powered through some struggles to come up big for UConn late in the second half.
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

In the extra session, Antwoine Anderson (14 points, three assists) led things off with a three-pointer and Vital followed it up with one of his own. Those two combined to score all 12 of UConn’s overtime points. Vital hit a jumper with 54 seconds left to get UConn up 75-71 and then sealed the win for the Huskies with 4.5 seconds left by making a steal on Columbia’s last chance and hitting two free throws after getting fouled. Long live Christian Vital, and also maybe put him in the starting lineup?

A win is a win, I guess, and when two starters and a rotation player are out with injury and the team’s two best players are hobbled they are going to struggle, but there is no excuse for the way Kevin Ollie’s team played for the majority of the night. Win or lose, this should not have been this close against a Columbia team that is now 1-5. There is every reason to be concerned with the bad starts, sloppy, undisciplined offense, and the fact that UConn lets teams enjoy breakout offensive performances against them.

The Huskies advance to 5-2 and are in action next on Saturday as they host Monmouth, who has notched wins over solid Bucknell and Albany teams. Tip-off is at 4 p.m. at the XL Center and the game will be televised on SNY.