In a game as physical as any the two rivals have played, UConn men’s basketball couldn’t overcome Jalen Adams fouling out, as the Huskies lost an overtime game to the Cincinnati Bearcats 74-72 on Saturday night.
Alterique Gilbert and Christian Vital picked up the slack in the senior’s absence, with Gilbert hitting a tough shot at the second half buzzer to secure an extra five minutes of play, but Vital was whistled for an offensive foul at the end of overtime, ensuring a Cincinnati win.
Gilbert led the way with 18 points for the Huskies (10-7, 1-3 AAC), who are 0-2 in true road games. Adams and Vital scored 16 apiece.
The Huskies started hot out of the gates with three treys in the first four minutes, building an early 11-5 lead. Strong defense and crisp passing helped UConn stay in the lead for most of the first half, which was played at an uncharacteristically fast pace for a physical Cincinnati squad.
Sloppy offense from Dan Hurley’s squad allowed Cincinnati to tie the game with eight minutes left in the half, creating opportunities in transition after UConn turnovers or poor shot choices. Gilbert struggled early, playing tough defense to cut off dribble lanes, but making unwise shot selection with the ball in his hands.
Three minutes later, the Bearcats took their first lead of the game on a Jarron Cumberland driving layup. Cincinnati led 33-32 at the break, displaying their typical strong defense.
UConn didn’t have much of a problem with turnovers in the first half, but found itself in foul trouble again. At halftime, starting center Josh Carlton had a pair, backup center Eric Cobb had three, and stretch-four Tyler Polley had two as well. The Huskies aren’t a shallow team, but shrinking their lineup has more often than not resulted in tired, undisciplined play, a problem that only becomes a bigger problem against deep teams like Cincinnati.
The Huskies put the starters back in coming out of the locker room, but it didn’t make a difference initially, as Cincinnati began the second half with a 6-0 run without the Huskies attempting a shot from the floor. Carlton made a reverse layup to temporarily stop the bleeding, but the Bearcats continued to put pressure on the Huskies, as Jalen Adams was called for his second and third fouls in the span of about ten seconds.
The Bearcats took a double-digit lead before eight minutes had ticked off the clock in the second half, following a series of UConn turnovers. Adams, though, led the Huskies on a quick 8-0 run to get them right back into the game, hitting an acrobatic and-one and dishing to an open Vital for a three.
UConn’s switch to zone defense midway through the second frame forced Cincinnati into tougher shots, slowing down the Bearcats’ offensive flow. However, Adams picked up his fourth foul with just under eight minutes left in the game, which left Dan Hurley with a lineup conundrum.
A questionable flagrant foul on Vital halted UConn’s progress; Cumberland made both free throws and Cincinnati went into the double bonus (while just having two team fouls itself) as the Bearcats took an eight-point lead with six minutes to go.
Adams’ subsequent return to the game sparked a rapid 9-0 run, as he and Vital both knocked down a triple, Adams took a gutsy charge with four personal fouls to his record, and Vital hit a deep shot to put UConn ahead for the first time in the half.
Adams fouled out with two and a half minutes left and the score tied at 57, and two free throws and a transition dunk later, the Bearcats led by four. The Huskies were hurting for scoring with the now-absent Adams’ then-game-high 16 points leading UConn, until Gilbert swished a three off the dribble to bring UConn’s deficit to one.
Two missed shots and a jump ball later, the Huskies had the ball with 26 seconds left, the shot clock off, and a chance to win. But Sidney Wilson was charged with an offensive foul, which gave Cincinnati a pair of free throws. Cane Broome, a great shooter from the line, only made one of the two, and UConn had another chance. With just seconds left, driving toward the basket, through contact, Gilbert hit a runner at the buzzer, sending the game into overtime.
The extra period was just as back-and-forth as the second half, but Cincinnati went ahead by five with just over a minute left as Justin Jenifer drained a three. Down by a two-score margin, the Huskies needed quick points, but each shot was cancelled out by a pair of Cincinnati free throws on the opposite end.
Gilbert hit another and-one with twelve seconds left, and two missed free throws by Jenifer gave UConn one final chance. That chance ended when Vital was called for an offensive foul with two seconds left, giving Cincinnati the ball and the victory.
While the Huskies’ sharp shooting proved their three-point slump is over, the biggest disparity in the game was free throws. The home Bearcats attempted 38 extra shots while the visiting Huskies could only shoot 16 tries from the stripe.
Cumberland led Cincinnati (14-3, 3-1 AAC) with 22 points and a game-high seven assists, and Jenifer, Nysier Brooks, and Keith Williams all finished in double figures. The Bearcats host USF on Tuesday.
Vital finished with a game-high 10 rebounds, with Carlton grabbing four offensive boards. UConn again kept a team dependent on offensive rebounds from gaining an advantage with second chances, but weren’t able to keep the Bearcats away from the free throw line. The Huskies visit Tulsa on Wednesday night.