If Kevin Ollie can find a silver lining in Friday night's opening loss to Wagner, it's that his young team may well have learned a valuable lesson at the right time.
“We've got to step back and go back to the drawing board and figure it out,” Ollie said after his No. 18 Huskies were stunned by the visitors from Staten Island — and the Northeast Conference. “This is a dark time right now, but it's going to a period after this where we say we got better from it.”
Another good thing for UConn is getting right back at it, which the Huskies will do when they host Northeastern Monday night.
“We've got to get tougher,” Ollie said. “Our two toughest guys were our two smallest guys out there. That's (freshmen) C.V. (Christian Vital) and Al (Gilbert). We've got to get tougher and that starts with me as a coach. I've got to get these guys ready to play. I take full responsibility and I will do that.”
Northeastern topped local rival Boston University 87-77 Friday night, with senior guard T.J. Williams scoring a career-high 30 points, dishing out eight assists and grabbing four rebounds — and graduate senior transfer Alex Murphy scoring 20 points in the opener of his sixth college season.
While THOSE Huskies have youth, the experience of the two opening night stars is similar to what Wagner brought to Storrs to snap UConn's 27-game Storrs opening game winning streak.
“We did have a 12-0 run to tie it (in the second half), but they hit a three and every time they needed a bucket they made some big-time plays,” said Ollie. “That's what a veteran-laden team does.”
Northeastern, out of Colonial Conference, was put on the map by Jim Calhoun, who moved from those Huskies to the UConn Huskies and did pretty well there.
Northeastern was picked to finish seventh in the Colonial. But Friday night, Williams became the first Northeastern player to score 30 in an opener since the late Reggie Lewis scored 32 at the Great Alaska Shootout — against No. 2 Louisville — in a win in 1986.
That was Calhoun's first year at UConn.
“We lost a lot of experience over the last two years,” Northeastern coach Bill Coen said after Friday night's win.
Murphy, who previously attended Duke and Florida, missed all last season because of injury and was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA — taking it at Northeastern.
Clearly, the level of competition rises for Northeastern Monday night — especially considering UConn already learned the lesson of perhaps overlooking an unheralded opponent.
Transfer Terry Larrier was a bright spot for UConn in his debut, scoring 19 points and grabbing seven rebounds.
“He played well for us,” said Ollie. “He was a real bright spot for us. He played very, very well for us, played with a lot of heart and played with pure heart.”
After Monday night's game, UConn, which likely cost itself a spot in the rankings, heads west. They visit Los Angeles, Ollie's hometown, to play Loyola Marymount — and then across the Pacific to play in the Maui Invitational. They face Oklahoma State in the tourney opener Nov. 21.