UConn's dismal season ends with loss to SMU in AAC tournament

Dom Amore, The Hartford Courant on

Published in Basketball

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Any talk of the UConn men putting some kind of miracle bow on their season proved to be, once again, just talk.

The season was an empty package, and it could not be made to look better in the American Athletic Conference tournament.

In reality, the Huskies season crashed to an end fittingly, with an 80-73 loss to SMU in the first round on Thursday at the Amway Center. SMU, playing without its two top players, having lost eight of its last nine, played with a sense of pride.

The Huskies, once again playing with urgency only after falling hopelessly behind, earned the ignominious distinction of being the first team of the 12-team league send home from Orlando.

UConn (14-18) ended its worst season in 30 years, maybe longer, depending on how one defines it.

And now comes an offseason filled with questions, the first and most obvious being whether or not Kevin Ollie remains coach.

The Huskies were never really in this, falling behind 19 at the half. After cutting it briefly to within nine points, they were soon down 21 with 11:42 to play. Then came one of their patented, late and meaningless flurries as the clock ran down and the life drained from another season. They were within four with 40 seconds to go, but it was too little and far too late. SMU (17-15) made enough free throws to close out the game.

Christian Vital scored 22 points, Antwoine Anderson 19 and Terry Larrier 12 as the Huskies shot 45.8 percent, 53.3 in the second half.

Ben Emelogu scored 23, Akoy Agau 20 and Jahmal McMurray for the Mustangs, who lost leading rebounder Jarrey Foster and top scorer and point guard Shake Milton to mid-season injuries.

UConn came out cold, and got colder as the first half went on. SMU jumped out to a 9-2 lead, and the started hitting 3-pointers, with McMurray, Emelogu, Ethan Chargois, Jimmy Whitt and Elijah Landrum all joining the perimeter party.

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On the UConn side, the shooting was futile -- even when they moved the ball and found an open shot, the Huskies air-balled as many as they made, it seemed.

Landrum's layup finished a 13-2 run and gave the Mustangs a 25-13 lead with 7:16 left in the half. McMurray's jumper made it 37-21 with 1:16 to go and Akoy Agau finished the half with an easy layup to give SMU a 42-23 lead, subduing the group of UConn fans behind the bench. The Huskies were 11 for 29, 0 for 7 on 3s and their big three scorers, Jalen Adams, Christian Vital and Terry Larrier were a combined 5 for 18.

The Mustangs shot 51.2 percent, including 7 for 13 on 3s in the half.

The Huskies came out a desperate team in the second half. Adams and Larrier hit jumpers, and Larrier made a half-court steal and scored to ignite a 12-2 run, cutting SMU's lead to single digits.

But the momentum didn't last. Emelogu hit a couple of 3s, with a series of Husky turnovers and McMurray hit another 3 to extend the Mustangs' lead to 60-39 with 11:40 left.

The Huskies began scoring more fast-break points, and got some 3s from Vital and Anderson, but could not catch up.

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