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UConn Men’s Basketball Suffers Senior Night Loss to Temple, 78-71

Missed free throws and another Alterique Gilbert injury doomed the Huskies.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Missed free throws and the injury bug struck again, as the UConn men’s basketball team lost to the Temple Owls, 78-71. It was the Huskies’ first loss at Gampel Pavilion this season. Josh Carlton scored a career high 21 points to go with seven rebounds while Christian Vital added a season-high 26, including seven three-pointers.

There was a lot for the Huskies to get up for tonight. Senior Night games always carry a little something extra, even if Jalen Adams remained sidelined with a sprained knee. Plus, a chance to knock Temple off the NCAA bubble during Fran Dunphy’s final year added a little more incentive. Add in the fact that UConn hadn’t lost at Gampel this year (8-0), and everything seemed set for a high-energy, competitive tilt.

But UConn had no answer for Temple senior Shizz Alston Jr., who dropped a career high 34. As if the senior night loss wasn’t enough, UConn lost redshirt sophomore guard Alterique Gilbert to a head injury in the second half, which landed him in the emergency room after the game.

With all three seniors starting, UConn was bigger than usual, with Cobb and Carlton occupying the post. The Huskies started off 0-6 from the field, and Cobb was quickly pulled for Tyler Polley two-and-a-half minutes in. Staring down a 9-0 hole once again, UConn found itself trailing 15-5 early and shooting 1-11 from the field.

Some big plays from Carlton on both ends kept the squad in the game, but the everyone not named Vital continued their ice-cold stretch from three. Vital was the team’s only source of offensive output, nailing four first-half threes.

UConn cut what was once a 10-point deficit to four with six minutes left in the half and got it to one at 4:26 after a Vital steal and dunk. But Temple countered with some timely threes, as Alston continued to burn the Huskies with 17 first half points. The Huskies ended the half only trailing by five though, looking to erase their 0-12 record when trailing after the period.

The energy level was on a different level to start the half, with UConn taking its first lead of the night at the 15 minute mark. Some pretty offensive sets helped spark the run, including a nice pick n’ roll from Gilbert to Carlton for a jam. Despite constant double-teams, Carlton continued to be a force inside on the offensive end. You name it, he brought it; offensive rebounds, spin moves, solid free throw shooting.

Tarin Smith’s face-guarding of Alston held the Temple star scoreless until 11:36. Vital stayed hot from three, but Alston eventually was able to heat up again and matched Vital shot-for-shot. A silly flagrant by Brendan Adams on a Temple breakaway resulted in a four point swing with 9:19 left, giving the lead back to the Owls.

Gilbert went down with a face injury at 7:36 and the sight of UConn floor general once more on the floor quieted a raucous Gampel. The injury occurred on a 50-50 ball with Ernest Aflakplui and the bigger forward inadvertently clocked the snake-bit guard. With Gilbert bloodied and heading to the locker room, UConn sorely missed its leader.

Temple re-took the lead as Alston continued to run rampant. The Huskies held around though, as Carlton continued to flash on the offensive end. A Smith steal gave UConn the ball back with 30 seconds left, down only five. Polley was then fouled on a three, but hit two of his foul shots. Hurley and company tried to stretch out the game as long as they could, but Alston proved clutch at the free-throw line, making his last four from the line to ice the game.

In the end, missed free throws, botched layups, and just some terrible luck continued to haunt UConn. The Huskies were cruising before Gilbert went down, and the team deserves some credit for hanging around after. But it’s hard to win a game shooting 54% from the line.

Ups

  • Temple leads the AAC in steals, but UConn did a relatively good job of minimizing the damage on turnovers. Yes there were sloppy passes (Vital, Carlton) but they were more mental miscues and had nothing to do with Temple’s pressure.
  • Carlton continues to put it together. His post moves continue to show polish, and he has moments of composure that get you excited for the next two years. Case in point; on a bad fast-break pass from Smith, Carlton gathered the ball away from lane, avoided a travel and drew a foul. A fast break dish to a big away from the paint is usually a turnover, but Carlton had the athletic ability to turn it into a positive play.

Downs

  • Temple’s high ball-screens helped the Owl backcourt of Alston and Pierre-Louis combine for 54 points. The lateral quickness just isn’t there from some players, and the team isn’t schematically organized enough yet to mask it.
  • Free throws. Shooting 54% from the charity stripe at home is inexcusable.