New era jumps out to a fast start

The News-Times - - SPORTS - By David Borges

STORRS — Hello, Hur­ley!

That was the greet­ing Dan Hur­ley got from the Gam­pel Pavil­ion sell­out as he walked onto the floor for the first time of­fi­cially as UConn head coach Thurs­day night, about five min­utes be­fore open­ing tip-off.

The 10,167 fans in the house were glad to see him, and left the build­ing even hap­pier with the per­for­mance of Josh Carl­ton. The sopho­more for­ward scored a ca­reer-high 17 points to go with eight re­bounds and helped UConn to an 80-70

vic­tory over More­head State to kick off the Hur­ley era.

“Josh had a high mo­tor,” said guard Al­terique Gilbert. “That’s what we’re look­ing for out of Josh — high mo­tor, high en­ergy

ev­ery night.”

There has never been any ques­tions about Hur­ley’s mo­tor, and that was on full dis­play, as well. At one point in the sec­ond half, Carl­ton fell to the floor go­ing af­ter a loose ball

un­der the Huskies’ bas­ket. Hur­ley raced about 50 feet from the side­line near UConn’s bench to the base­line, and was the first to help Carl­ton to his feet.

“I’ve never seen a coach do that,” se­nior guard Jalen Adams re­marked. “Just to see him do stuff like that, it shows how in-tune to the game he is and how much he cares about us as play­ers, and the game.”

Just an­other night at the of­fice for the high-wired Hur­ley? Not re­ally.

“Ob­vi­ously, we’re thrilled to get the first one,” he said. “My three most nervewrack­ing days as a head coach were my first one at Wag­ner, first one at Rhode Is­land and first one here. When you’re coach­ing a new team, a lot of guys you haven’t even re­cruited, you just have no idea what they’re gonna do. Es­pe­cially with the great crowd.”

But the Huskies put up a good — if not great — ef­fort, never trail­ing but never quite able to put More­head State (1-1) away un­til the fi­nal min­utes.

“You can’t go from not good to a team with a killer in­stinct, but there were pock­ets in that game where we had a chance to ex­tend it,” Hur­ley noted. “We were play­ing with fire, get it to 12, 14 ... and we let them back in. We just showed a lack of a killer in­stinct, where we had a chance to bury them a cou­ple of times and we let them hang around.”

Adams and Gilbert, who has missed al­most all of the past two sea­sons with shoul­der in­juries, worked through some foul trou­ble and com­bined for 31 points. Tarin Smith added 12 points and a lit­tle of ev­ery­thing else, in­clud­ing four as­sists, four re­bounds and a charge, and Bren­dan Adams hit a pair of well­timed, sec­ond-half 3-point­ers. Chris­tian Vi­tal strug­gled from the floor but grabbed eight re­bounds.

UConn got out on the break at times, and when it couldn’t, found Carl­ton down low. The 6-foot-10 sopho­more played as well as he’s played as a col­le­gian, though it should be noted that More­head State didn’t use a sin­gle player taller than 6-foot-7.

“Coach just re­minded me, for us to play to our full po­ten­tial, I’ve got to be able to step up,” Carl­ton said. “I’ve got to be a guy they can de­pend on. Com­ing into the sea­son, there’s been a lot of doubt on our front­court, a lot of em­pha­sis on our back­court. That’s why, if I do my work, we’ll be a good team.”

Said Hur­ley: “Josh has got real ta­lent. He’s gonna be in the deep end of the pool here this year. We need him — as a sopho­more, still a young player — to per­form at a high level if we’re gonna be suc­cess­ful. If his mo­tor’s up, his ac­tiv­ity’s up, the way it was at times tonight, he’s got a chance to be a re­ally, re­ally good player. He’s got a chance to be a start­ing player on a re­ally, re­ally good UConn team.”

It wasn’t all pos­i­tives, of course. De­spite More­head State’s small size, the Huskies only nar­rowly won the re­bound­ing bat­tle, 41-36.

“The re­bound­ing, at times, was in­fu­ri­at­ing,” Hur­ley noted. “And we just made some men­tal er­rors that we can get bet­ter from.”

UConn looked good at times in the first half, get­ting out on the break, hit­ting a few 3s and run­ning up as much as a 13-point (33-20) lead with 5:44 left. But the Ea­gles quickly coun­tered with an 8-0 run and stayed close the rest of the half.

The first half ended on a ter­ri­ble se­quence for the Huskies, as the Ea­gles grabbed an of­fen­sive re­bound off a missed free throw with 11 sec­onds left and worked the ball around to Malek Green, who canned a trey at the buzzer.

The Huskies’ lead was a mere 37-33 at the break.

More­head State stuck around for the first 10 min­utes of the lat­ter half un­til a 9-2 run gave the Huskies some breath­ing room.

“Over­all, we got some jit­ters out,” Hur­ley said. “I’m happy with the per­for­mance.”

RIM RATTLINGS

⏩ The sell­out was UConn’s first at Gam­pel since March 6, 2016 against UCF.

“I’d like to thank the crowd for show­ing up and sup­port­ing us tonight,” Hur­ley said. “They were awe­some, the stu­dents were awe­some. As we’re build­ing this, we need them back on Sun­day just like that. We’re try­ing to build this thing back to an elite level. This team needs that. It gives us an edge in terms of win­ning, get­ting our cred­i­bil­ity back. It also helps, with the op­tics, with the re­cruits and ev­ery­thing. As far as it’s been the last cou­ple of years, we need that fan sup­port.”

Early in the sec­ond half, a huge ban­ner that read “Fight On Con­necti­cut” was un­veiled by the stu­dent sec­tion, cov­er­ing nearly the en­tire sec­tion dur­ing a time­out.

⏩ Sopho­more for­ward Isa­iah Wha­ley sprained his left an­kle mid­way through the first half. He re­turned to the floor briefly later in the half, but sat out the en­tire sec­ond half. Hur­ley said af­ter­wards that it was largely pre­cau­tion­ary, and that Wha­ley prob­a­bly could have re­turned to the game if nec­es­sary.

⏩ Akok Akok, a high­lytouted Class of 2019 power for­ward, was on an un­of­fi­cial visit to UConn on Thurs­day and at­tended the game. Akok was joined by Put­nam Sci­ence Academy team­mates Kareim Reid and Has­san Diarra. Akok has made of­fi­cial vis­its to UConn, Syra­cuse, Pitts­burgh, George­town and Prov­i­dence.

Jes­sica Hill / As­so­ci­ated Press

More­head State’s A.J. Hicks, left, and UConn’s Chris­tian Vi­tal chase down a loose ball dur­ing Thurs­day’s game.

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