Wagner Stuns UConn 67-58 In Season-Opener

There were any number of shocking sights and sounds at Gampel Pavilion on Friday night, but the most shocking sound was silence, the most shocking sight was of fans streaming to the exits with a couple of minutes to play.

The UConn men's basketball season, with such promise in its buildup and excitement at its launch, crashed to the floor in the first game.

Wagner defeated No. 18 UConn, 67-58, the first time the Huskies have ever lost a season opener at Gampel, which was completed in 1990, the first loss in a season-opener anywhere since 1999.

That one was to Iowa at Madison Square Garden. This was to Wagner, perhaps the best team in the NEC, winners of 23 games last season, but still, a member of the NEC.

"We waited way too late," said Jalen Adams, who was 4-for-15 from the floor, "we waited until there was a minute and 39 seconds left to start trying to play and start wanting the game. Me, myself, I've got to come out there and lead those guys."

Intensity, leadership and cohesion were all lacking for UConn, which led in the game only once — 2-0. The Huskies came from 10 points behind to tie it late in the first half, and from 12 points back to tie it with at 49 with 6:46 to play. But those were only fleeting moments in which they looked the way everyone expects a UConn team to look. The Huskies shot 35.7 percent, going 8-for-30 in the second half.

"Our juice wasn't there," coach Kevin Ollie said. "We have to do a better job of sharing the basketball. I thought the ball stuck too much. Guys were worrying about the wrong things; the wrong things are it's 'my shot.' No. You have to play defense, and get 'UConn' shots.

"We've got to get tougher, that starts with me as a coach. I take full responsibility of it. I've got to get these guys ready to play better."

UConn's heralded freshmen class made its debut and had its moments. Guard Alterique Gilbert scored 14, and Christian Vital scored five and played some spirited defense. "Our two toughest guys were the two smallest guys out there," Ollie said.

Transfer Terry Larrier, in his first game, scored 19.

"Yeah, it felt good to be out there," said Larrier, who had to sit out last season, "but it's a little sour with the loss. … For a short stretch in the second half we did play with intensity, but we need to play like that the whole game."

The Huskies seniors, however, had terrible games. Rodney Purvis was 2-for-7 and turned the ball over four times. Amida Brimah had four points and five rebounds in 26 minutes, and Kentan Facey had two rebounds, and no points, in 14 minutes.

It was a familiar scene for UConn's big men: They got their hands on a number of rebounds, but fumbled them away. Meanwhile, Mike Aaman, Wagner's 260-pound center, had 15 points and nine rebounds, hurting UConn — especially in the opening and closing minutes. Aaman, 6-foot-8, was the Seahawks tallest player, yet they outrebounded UConn 37-to-33.

"We can do all the technical stuff," Ollie said, "but we have to have the will to get the basketball and play tough."

Wagner led 21-11 when UConn began playing better late in the first half, and tied it with 1:03 to on Vance Jackson's two free throws. Romone Saunders' three-pointer gave Wagner a lead to take into the half.

But UConn came out flat in the second half, too, and Wagner opened a 49-37 lead on another Saunders three. Saunders, who scored 15, left with an injury after that and UConn began forcing turnovers. Though the Huskies held Wagner scoreless for 61/2 minutes, they could only scratch back to tie it on a Larrier free throw. Then Wagner pulled ahead again and put it away.

"We definitely need to pick up our energy and our intensity level," Gilbert said. "The game starts on defense. We'll definitely learn from this and get better from it."

The Seahawks shot only 37.7 percent, but were able to slow the tempo, shorten the game and make enough shots at the end of the clock, hitting 9 of 25 three-pointers.

"Watching these play in their two exhibition games, we were overwhelmed by their talent, their length, their athleticism," said Wagner coach Bashir Mason. "Honestly, we thought the only way we'd have a chance to be in the game was to try to control the tempo, take care of the ball, and tonight we were able to pull off probably one of the greatest victories in school history."

Wagner beat a ranked team once before, Pittsburgh in 2011. On defense, Wagner packed it in, looking to force UConn to kick the ball out and take threes. The Huskies were 6-for-19 on threes, and really never looked like they knew what they wanted to do on offense, as Ollie tried several combinations..

"We got down on ourselves and let it affect our defense," Adams said. "We let them take control."

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