The UConn Huskies squandered a strong first half and many second-half opportunities as they allowed Tulsa to pick up a 73-71 victory in Hartford on Thursday night.
Sterling Taplin led the Golden Hurricane with 30 points on 10-12 shooting, while Christian Vital led the Huskies with 20 while going 6-16 from the field. Vital was one of the Huskies’ few efficient scorers, as the team finished at .403 from the floor. Tulsa made more than half of its two- and three-point attempts after a hot second half and goaded UConn into 19 fouls overall.
Vital hit a trio of threes early in the half to give the Huskies an early lead. At one point, Vital had as many points (13) as the entire Tulsa team. The Golden Hurricane stayed in the game though, as they hit their fair share of shots.
As Vital’s hot hand wore off a bit, Tyler Polley took over with two straight threes, Antwoine Anderson hit two from NBA range, and Josh Carlton provided a solid presence on the inside. A good amount of this was thanks to Adams’ passing, as the junior point guard had six assists in the first half. Adams, Terry Larrier, and Mamadou Diarra all picked up two fouls with significant time left in the first half, and as they sat on the bench, UConn extended the lead until Carlton picked up his second foul late in the frame.
The Huskies led 40-31 at halftime thanks to their hot streak from three and strong play from the bench, which accounted for 17 points in the first half. UConn again had issues with unforced turnovers (six, none on steals) and fouls (eleven) in the first half, both of which played into Tulsa’s game plan. Nonetheless, the Huskies still had a nine-point advantage going into the break.
Tulsa shrunk the UConn lead to only five points early in the second half after making a pair of threes, and Taplin continued to create problems for the UConn defense, scoring from just about any spot on the floor. Seven minutes into the half, Taplin hit a deep three that gave Tulsa its first lead since the first few minutes of the game.
With nine minutes to go, Diarra committed his fourth foul, shrinking a UConn frontcourt rotation that was already in foul trouble, and Tulsa took the lead on its next shot, extending it with a Junior Etou three on their following possession.
Tulsa found themselves up by seven with 2:30 to play due to a nearly four-minute-long UConn scoring drought that was finally ended by a Larrier three, his first made field goal of the game. He hit his second just 20 seconds later, another three which made it a one-point game.
After a bizarre officiating snafu where 19 seconds had to be run off the game time to correct a clock stoppage from several possessions earlier, Vital sank a pair of free throws to give UConn a one-point lead with 54 seconds left.
Taplin scored again on the ensuing Tulsa possession on a nice drive to the basket, as UConn called its final timeout to set up a play with 35 seconds remaining. Jalen Adams hurried a long two-point attempt with 16 seconds left that clanged off the front rim. Tulsa then scored on a long inbounds pass two seconds later. UConn came back with an easy bucket by Isaiah Whaley to keep the margin at one. Tulsa missed the front end of a 1-and-1 but grabbed the rebound and UConn had to foul again. Etou missed the first of two and hit the second to give UConn one more chance, but Adams’ frantic drive to the rim was snuffed out and Tulsa held on for the win.
Carlton added 12 points for the Huskies (12-14, 5-8 AAC), and Vital finished with a game-high 10 rebounds. Adams had a season-high 11 assists. The Huskies are in action next at East Carolina on Sunday afternoon.