It has been an emotionally taxing weekend for the UConn men’s basketball team. After losing Tyler Polley to a season-ending injury, the Huskies lost to #23 Wichita State Sunday afternoon in a double-overtime thriller. They fought back from a nine-point deficit with 1:05 left, as a three from redshirt sophomore Sidney Wilson sent the game into overtime.
Despite two hard-fought periods of free basketball, points in the paint (46-36) and free throws (29-42 from the line) doomed the Huskies, who fell to 10-6 on the year and 1-3 in the AAC. It was their second double-overtime loss of the year, the first coming at the hands of Xavier in Charleston. Also, the referees were horrible, with three bad calls in particular, shaping the course of the game.
Senior Christian Vital led all scorers with 25 while freshman James Bouknight added 16. Juniors Josh Carlton and Alterique Gilbert chipped in 13 and 14 respectively, while Carlton added 12 rebounds for his third double-double of the season. Wilson had a breakout performance with 12 points in just his second time hitting double figures on the season.
It was a tight contest from the jump. Buckets on both ends were hard to come by, not a shock considering both teams’ defensive reputations. Two Wichita State threes opened up a five-point Shocker lead, but Isaiah Whaley and Sidney Wilson kept things in check with some nice interior defense. A big three from Sid, his first of the season, tied the game at 18, but Jamarius Burton hit some tough shots to keep UConn at bay.
Wichita State rattled off a 15-5 run and took its lead to 10 as UConn’s halfcourt offense sputtered. But a Gilbert three and some energy from Wilson on both ends brought the Huskies back to life.
Wilson turned the ball over, and promptly erased his mistake with a chase-down block. Vital went crashing into the stands to save the ball, and the fast break resulted in a botched alley-oop to the gravity-challenged Carlton. But in came Wilson to finish the play, with a tip-in dunk that sent the XL center into a frenzy.
UConn entered the half down five, despite taking 16 free throws and forcing 12 turnovers. But the game seemed there for the taking with a little better halfcourt execution on offense.
According to CBS Sports Networks’ Steve Lappas, head coach Dan Hurley stressed going under pick and rolls when Burton has the ball and on offense, better movement on ball penetration, as well more ball screens for Vital to get him open.
Wichita State stretched its lead back out to start the second half by pounding the ball into the post, with Shocker center Jaime Echenique getting the better of Carlton down low. Their lead ballooned to as much as 12 as UConn continued to miss open looks from the field.
With Polley out, UConn simply didn’t have enough reliable scorers out on the court. Spacing in the halfcourt was cramped and ball movement was stagnant. The Huskies had to work really hard to get looks on offense, and it took a toll on their defensive energy.
Yet after a 9-2 run, UConn found itself only down five with 8:26 to play. The Huskies were always seemingly on the cusp of getting back into the game, but either a silly foul or ill-advised shot kept it from happening. UConn got two looks to cut things back to five with around two minutes to play, but a turnover and Wichita State dunk seemed like the nail in the coffin.
But UConn didn’t quit. Down nine with 1:09 left, UConn’s 1-2-2 press created two Wichita State turnovers. After some clutch Vital free throws, UConn forced a shot-clock violation, giving the Huskies the ball down three with 10 ticks left.
Inbounding the ball with a chance to tie, UConn got it to Alterique Gilbert, who sliced into the lane and kicked to a wide open Sidney Wilson. Wilson —who didn’t even play against Tulane — buried the three to tie it at 69. The Kid wasn’t done; he even blocked the Shockers’ desperation buzzer-beater with 1.8 seconds left.
In the first overtime, UConn found itself with its first lead since the score was 10-8. Both teams traded buckets, with James Bouknight shouldering the offensive load for UConn. Knotted at 77, the Shockers had an open look and even an offensive tip-in that just rolled out.
The second overtime started disastrously, with Tyson Etienne converting a three-point play on the tip. Gilbert missed two free throws that would have cut the lead to one, but three-straight Husky stops kept Wichita State’s lead at three. Down four with 30 seconds left, Gregg Marshall inexplicably switched to zone, and Vital promptly knocked down a three to bring it back to one.
Forced to extend the game by fouling, the Huskies found themselves down three with 26.7 seconds left, but Gilbert was called for a questionable offensive foul. UConn had one last chance to tie things up, but a Vital three rattled out. It was a gut-wrenching way to end an absolute battle; the type of game that leaves even those watching mentally exhausted afterwards.
The Shockers are 28-5 since UConn blew them out last year on Jan. 26 and a formidable heavyweight in the AAC. Despite the loss, going toe-to-toe with them today is evident that UConn’s opening duds against Cincinnati and USF may have been a mirage. However, it certainly won’t get easier for the Huskies, who head to Villanova next Saturday Jan. 18 for a little Big East preview at noon.