Fresh off an emotionally-wrought win over Memphis on Sunday, the UConn men’s basketball team lost 93 to 89 on the road against the Temple Owls in yet another overtime game. It was UConn’s first full game without freshman rim protector Akok Akok, who underwent successful surgery for his ruptured Achilles tendon on Tuesday.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before; it was a game of runs, with UConn opening up 12-point lead at one point only to surrender it in the span of minutes.
Senior Christian Vital — who leads the AAC in steals per game and is now 18th on UConn’s all-time scoring list — paced the Huskies with 21 points, 8 boards and 3 steals. Isaiah Whaley had yet another quality game filling in for Akok, with 18 points on 8-14 shooting, 14 rebounds and a pair of blocks.
Whaley started in place of Akok, and junior Josh Carlton picked up two fouls in the first 45 seconds so UConn was forced to go even smaller with redshirt junior Sidney Wilson. Trigger-happy TV Teddy Valentine whistled five fouls in the first five minutes, while Temple threw a lot of press at UConn’s thinning bench.
Yet the Huskies hung around thanks to 12 quick points from Vital, playing as smooth and composed as he’s ever looked. Six-straight buckets from Carlton stretched UConn’s lead out to as much as 12, with an active 2-3 zone stifling the Owls. After starting the game going 4-15 from the field, Temple woke up and rattled off a 16-2 run of its own to retake the lead.
UConn entered the half down three, despite only two points from James Bouknight. On the other end though, UConn held Quinton Rose, the all-time leader in points and steals in AAC history, without a bucket. Besides Vital, the Huskies shot 1-6 from three, and UConn’s bigs — classified as Wilson, Carlton, and Whaley — accrued six fouls in total. The game was in reach if the bigs could stay out of foul trouble, and if someone besides Vital picked up the scoring slack.
Sure enough, Carlton picked up his third foul two minutes in, but the Owls also picked up seven fouls in the first four minutes to slow any home-court momentum. It remained a one or two-possession game for most of the half, with both teams going with four-guard lineups due to foul trouble. Despite the guard-heavy rotation, nine turnovers — many of them unforced — plagued the Huskies.
Temple took a six point lead with 4:38 left, a five-point swing after Vital won and then coughed up a loose ball in their backcourt. But UConn kept coming back with some gutsy offensive rebounding and hustle plays. Down two, with five seconds left on the clock, Whaley made a clutch layup with five seconds left to force the game into overtime.
It was another back and forth affair in overtime with Bouknight leading the way once again. The freshman had a team-high seven points in overtime, but the game was not to end there. Down three, with 21 seconds left in the second overtime, Monty Scott turned into Temple’s hero of the night after hitting a three from well beyond the arc with Vital and Carlton draped all over him, evening up the game at 80 and sending the game into a second overtime.
Which... wasn’t much of a competitive overtime period. UConn got outscored 13 to nine, with nearly half of Temple’s points coming off of made free throws. After two hours and 35 minutes, it was finally over, and UConn had another heartbreaking loss to an AAC opponent in their final regular season meeting.
UConn will be back in action on Sunday against South Florida at 2 p.m. in Gampel Pavilion.