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UConn men’s basketball squeaks by Tulane, 80-76

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Senior Christian Vital poured in a season-high 28 points

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

In their last ever regular season game in the American Athletic Conference (whew, it feels good to type that), the UConn men’s basketball team dispatched the Tulane Green Wave 80-76 for the Huskies’ fifth-straight win. UConn improves to 19-12 overall and 10-8 in the conference, having won eight of their last 10 in the AAC. The Huskies will be the fifth seed in the AAC tournament in Dallas later this week after Wichita State dismantled Tulsa on Sunday.

Senior Christian Vital finished with a season-high 28 points, and sophomore Brendan Adams added 12 off the bench. Juniors Josh Carlton and Isaiah Whaley added 10 apiece, as did redshirt junior Alterique Gilbert. Star freshman James Bouknight finished with eight, snapping a streak of 10 straight games with 15 or more points. It was an odd game for the Huskies as they handily led Tulane in nearly every statistical category, but could never pull away.

Tulane jumped out to a 6-0 lead and the Huskies looked like they’d rather still be in the locker room reading their press clippings. But after a Hurley timeout, UConn woke up and rattled off a 13-0 run — Brendan Adams, a 28 percent 3-point shooter showing no hesitation in pulling the trigger, chipping in with seven-straight points.

The Green Wave never went away though; every time UConn built up a lead, Tulane promptly stormed back. Ron Hunter’s squad took its lead to as much as seven, with the Huskies struggling on rotations and closing out shooters. But most of it was Jordan Walker and Christion Thompson just plain hitting tough shots. (Side note: Hurley participating in Thompson’s senior day — having coached him at Rhode Island — shows the character of the head coach)

UConn headed into the half down two after a bizarre half of hoop where the Huskies looked potent for brief stretches, but for the most part mailed it in.

UConn rattled off a 6-0 run to start the second half, with the guards pushing the pace on the break much more effectively. But a sloppy, turnover-laden stretch kept it a one-possession game for the first ten minutes. Every time the Huskies had a chance to pull away, Tulane would come down and hit a tough shot.

A Vital three put UConn up eight with eight to play, snapping eight straight possessions with a missed field goal. Tulane was still able to hang around though, getting to the rim with ease due to late UConn defensive rotations. Up four with a minute left, all UConn had to do was take care of the ball and make free throws. After a Whaley’s sixth block, Adams’ free throws iced the game and the Huskies escaped New Orleans with a win.

While UConn got the win they needed, they’ll need to play better against Tulane on Thursday though. The Huskies get the Green Wave again in the first round of the AAC tournament at 3 p.m on Thursday.