UConn opens season with 89-67 win over Sacred Heart
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By PAT EATON-ROBB
STORRS, Conn. (AP) UConn coach Dan Hurley says he has a team filled with nice, quiet guys.
He didn't mean it as a compliment.
Josh Carlton scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half and Christian Vital added 15 of his 17 points after intermission to help the Huskies overcome a lethargic start and turn a three-point halftime lead into an 89-67 win over in-state rival Sacred Heart.
Hurley said he was disappointed that his team didn't come out of the gate with more energy.
"I wish the team would take on (Vital's) personality of toughness and self-belief," Hurley said. "That's got to run through your team. You look at it, you see it. We need to have a collective swagger about us that players who play at UConn should have."
Carlton opened the second half with four straight baskets in the paint, part of a 14-2 run that gave UConn a 54-39 advantage. Vital capped the run with a pair of 3-pointers that put the Huskies in control of the game.
Sophomore Brendan Adams, who finished with a career-high 15 points, gave the Huskies a 21-point lead at 64-43 with a 3-pointer from the left wing.
Sacred Heart scored 15 of the next 20 points, cutting the lead to 69-58 on a layup by Jarel Spellman.
But after a timeout, the Huskies scored the next 12 points to put the Pioneers away.
"I think we settled in and then did what we were supposed to do in the second half," Vital said.
Sidney Wilson finished with 13 points for the Huskies and Tyler Polley chipped in with 10
Kinnon LaRose had 15 points and E.J. Anosike finished with 12 points for Sacred Heart, which falls to 0-2.
Anosike, who had 20 points in Sacred Heart's 106-60 loss at Providence on Tuesday, fouled out midway through the second half. He joined teammate Zach Plaffenberger, who picked up four first-half fouls and committed another less than six minutes after intermission.
Spellman, who had a double-double with 11 points and 15 rebounds fouled out late in the game.
UConn led 40-37 at the halftime, despite being outrebounded 28-13 in the first 20 minutes, including 11-3 on the offensive end. Sacred Heart finished with a 49-41 advantage on the boards.
"The rebounding was just indescribably bad," Hurley said.
Sacred Heart: The Pioneers fall to 0-7 in the series. They lost the previous six by an average of 34 points.
UConn: The game marked the debut of freshmen Akok Akok (four points), who started and guard Jalen Gaffney, who did not score in nine minutes off the bench. The Huskies played without highly touted freshman James Bouknight, who is serving a three-game suspension and faces charges including evading police and driving without a license in a Sept. 27 one-car accident.
The Huskies capitalized on foul trouble of the Pioneers' big men, outscoring Sacred Heart 48-28 in the paint. UConn shot 45 percent from the floor, while holding the Pioneers to just 30.2 percent, including 25.8 percent in the second half.
PEAS IN A POD
Hurley and Vital butted heads often during last year's 16-17 season. The coach joked that he loves about 85 percent of what his senior guard does and hopes that gets to about 92 percent by February.
"People say that we're kind of like the same person," Vital said. "So we're going to have our moments, but I think we're going to have a lot more great moments than struggling moments this year."
Spellman blocked a shot, giving him 99 in his career, the most by any Sacred Heart player since the Pioneers became a Division I program in 1999-2000.
"He's a game-changer in our league," said coach Anthony Latina. "He had a double-double today and 15 rebounds is a career high. And I mean he's battling with some grown men. ... That was a great test for him.
Sacred Heart: The Pioneers are off until Nov. 16, when they travel to Binghamton.
UConn: The Huskies host St. Joseph's next Wednesday.
Updated November 8, 2019