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Men’s basketball: Huskies’ comeback bid falls short against Memphis

Memphis lost its top scorer for the season, but didn’t have much trouble with UConn until the very end of the game.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

A massive UConn comeback effort came up a minute late and four points short as Memphis held on to its 20-point second-half lead to beat the Huskies 83-79 at Gampel Pavilion on Sunday afternoon.

Memphis played without leading scorer Jeremiah Martin, who suffered a season-ending injury in the Tigers’ win over Houston on Thursday. Meanwhile, Jalen Adams returned from illness to lead the Huskies with 25 points and five assists.

Both teams shot well from the field, and overall Memphis was slightly more efficient than UConn. Seven total players finished in double figures, as Christian Vital scored 17 for the Huskies and Antwoine Anderson added 10 off the bench.

Tyler Polley opened up the scoring with a 3-pointer on the first possession of the game, and Vital scored two treys soon afterward, giving UConn a nice early lead. UConn’s defense struggled early though, and Memphis took over the lead only five minutes into the game. A refocused defensive effort led to a series of steals, most of which the Huskies converted into points.

Vital picked up his second foul early into the game, but so did Kyvon Davenport—Memphis’ top healthy scorer—leaving both out for long stretches in the first half. The dual loss of Martin and Davenport in the first half caused immediate issues for the Tigers, who gave up a 12-0 run and didn’t score for a five-minute stretch in the first half. After falling down by 10 points, Memphis hit two-straight shots from behind the arc, closing the score just as UConn started threatening to run away with the game.

The Tigers tied the game back up with six and a half minutes remaining in the first period, following a run of poor shot selection from the Huskies. The remaining first-half time was more back-and-forth, but Memphis’ scoring pace was just higher than UConn’s, and Tubby Smith’s team took a 10-point lead into halftime.

Memphis extended its lead early in the second half, making multiple 3-pointers during the first four minutes after the break. A 10-0 Memphis run and 19-point Memphis lead sparked two Kevin Ollie timeouts in the span of two minutes.

The Tigers kept up approximately a 20-point advantage for the bulk of the second half, but UConn went on a run starting with nine minutes left to play that pushed the Huskies much closer, whittling away the lead over time. At the four-minute timeout, Vital banked in a heavily-contested one-handed shot in the lane through a foul, and after the free throw, brought Memphis’ lead to only 10 points.

Adams hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key with three minutes left in the game to get UConn within single digits for the first time since the first half, but the Huskies defense continued to give up points to a hot-shooting Memphis offense. An unforced offensive foul gave the ball back to UConn, and Adams found Kwintin Williams for an open dunk, pulling within seven points with a minute and a half to play.

Two missed free throws with 28 seconds remaining gave the Huskies the ball and an opportunity, and even as an Adams turnover appeared to remove the slim chance of a comeback, Memphis missed their free throws, Anderson converted an and-one, and a turnover while inbounding gave UConn the ball back.

Adams converted a layup with 7.5 seconds left, getting the Huskies within four points, but Memphis didn’t miss any more free throws, which meant UConn’s comeback bid would fall short, as a 20-point lead proved far too much to overcome.

Mike Parks, Jr. and Jamal Johnson each scored 18 points for the Tigers (18-11, 9-7 AAC), who hold on to fifth place in the American Athletic Conference with the win. Raynere Thornton finished with 16 points, following up a career-high 21-point effort against Houston on Thursday, and Kareem Brewton, Jr. contributed a 12 points also.

Williams led the Huskies with seven rebounds, while Adams and Anderson nabbed three steals apiece. Terry Larrier finished with only eight points for UConn (13-16, 6-10 AAC), which falls into a tie for eighth with Southern Methodist in the conference standings.

UConn hosts Temple on Wednesday night for its final home game of the season.