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UConn Men’s Basketball Takes Down SMU, 63-52

The lead changed several times over the course of the game, but the Huskies closed it out with a nice run to claim victory.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Christian Vital scored 20 points and Jalen Adams added 18 as UConn pulled away at the end of a close game to beat Southern Methodist, 63-52, at Gampel Pavilion on Thursday night.

UConn was only up four points with five minutes to go, but quality defense and a late hot streak pushed the final margin to 11.

Tyler Polley got a surprise start in over Isaiah Whaley while Antwoine Anderson started for the injured Terry Larrier, and both played well defensively, as Anderson helped to hold SMU star Shake Milton to a 5-16 shooting performance from the field. The Mustangs struggled to shoot throughout the game, finishing with a .281/.250 percentage line, well short of their season averages.

UConn (11-9, 4-3 AAC) struggled off the bat, as SMU started the game on an 8-0 run, as the Huskies failed to hit a shot until after the first timeout. After a quick UConn run to tie the game, the Huskies continued to push the pace, taking SMU out of their comfort zone as the Huskies held the lead midway through the first half.

The Mustangs’ short rotation grew increasingly shallow with an early injury to Ben Emelogu, which left them with seven scholarship athletes, as two key players were hurt earlier in the season. With Tim Jankovich forced to go away from his game plan, UConn extended its lead before Emelogu’s return; as the Huskies got hot from three, the Mustangs’ offense stalled. UConn’s inability to clean up the glass kept the game close though, as SMU grabbed ten offensive rebounds in the first half.

The Huskies led 27-24 at the break, but their shooting slowed down toward the end of the half, ending the period on a 5:44 field goal drought, and not making another shot from the floor until three minutes into the second period. They had some trouble creating shots from the inside right as their long shots started refusing to fall. There was a stretch where the Huskies missed nine straight attempts from beyond the arc. They were able to keep the score close due to a passable midrange game and physical play that created opportunities from the free-throw line.

The Mustangs (14-7, 4-4) tied the game on an old-fashioned three-point play on their first possession of the second half and took the lead not long after. The physical play created issues for UConn later in the half as foul trouble mounted for the Huskies, but another quick run gave them a six-point lead with seven minutes to go.

They only extended the lead from there, thanks to active defensive play and a nice shooting run from Vital and Adams. Vital did finish with four fouls, but Kevin Ollie didn’t sit him toward the end of the game and he was a key piece in closing it out.

Josh Carlton led all players with 12 rebounds, and Isaiah Whaley had a game-high three blocks. Polley and Anderson tied for third on the team with seven points apiece. Whaley was the only bench scorer, adding six for the Huskies.

Milton led the Mustangs with 18 points while Jimmy Whitt contributed 14. Four other SMU players had five points each. Their next game is Sunday against East Carolina.

UConn moves ahead of SMU in the AAC standings with the win. The Huskies play at Temple on Sunday night in a nationally-televised contest.

UConn Head Coach Kevin Ollie, Christian Vital and Josh Carlton postgame video