STORRS, Conn. (AP) UConn guard Christian Vital scored 29 points against Columbia, but was happier with his two steals – the one that helped send the game into overtime and the other that preserved the Huskies’ win.
Antwoine Anderson added 14 points for UConn (5-2), which overcame a 15-point second-half deficit to beat the Lions 77-73 on Wednesday night. Forward Mamadou Diarra added 11 points and 10 rebounds for the Huskies, who trailed the Ivy Leaguers for more than 36 minutes.
”Our defense was shaky at first, but we really buckled down in the second half,” Vital said. ”That’s what I love about this team. No matter the adversity that we hit, I feel our best chances are going to win the game.”
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Lukas Meisner had 25 points and 11 rebounds to lead Columbia (1-5). Nate Hickman added 12 points.
The Lions led 41-30 at halftime and quickly stretched that to 45-30 on consecutive layups by Quinton Adlesh and Patrick Tape.
But UConn began chipping away and Columbia went cold from long range, at one point missing eight 3-point attempts in a row. Vital’s steal and two free throws with 2:16 left gave UConn a 61-60 lead, it’s first since 2-0.
A long 3-pointer from the right wing by Adlesh put the Lions back on top, 65-63, with 28 seconds left.
But UConn’s Jalen Adams hit a pull-up jumper in the lane with 19 seconds left and the teams ended up tied at the end of regulation.
”I thought at the end of the game we sort of slowed down a little bit,” said Columbia coach Jim Engles. ”I thought that was the key for us offensively. We needed to play with the same pace and we slowed down too much.”
Vital hit a jumper that gave the Huskies a four-point cushion in the extra frame, before Hickman made a layup that cut the deficit to 75-73.
A missed 3-pointer by Anderson gave Columbia the ball back. But Vital stole an inbounds pass from Hickman and hit both ends of a 1-and-1 to seal the win.
”I’m proud of the guys, their resiliency,” said coach Kevin Ollie. ”Coming back from down 10 points with 10 minutes left in the game and toughening it out.”
UConn: The Huskies, coming off a 35-point loss to Arkansas, played without guard Alterique Gilbert, who is dealing with soreness in his surgically repaired left shoulder and forwards Isaiah Whaley and Eric Cobb. Whaley had his wisdom teeth removed on Tuesday and Cobb is still recovering from a sprained ankle he suffered against Boston University on Nov. 19. Vital played despite a shoulder injury suffered last week.
”The shoulder was hurt the whole game,” Vital said. ”But, my team needed me and I needed them and we were able to stick it out.”
Columbia has not played a home game yet this season, but has not been embarrassed on the road. The Lions lost by 15 at Villanova on Nov. 10, and 14 at Penn State on Nov. 17.
FROM LONG RANGE
Columbia was 7 of 15 from 3-point range in the first half, but was just 3 of 14 after intermission. Both teams finished 10 of 29 on 3-point shots. Vital was 7 of 12 from behind the arc, while the rest of his team was just 3 of 17.
Vital and Diarra accounted for all of UConn’s 40 points from the bench, while Columbia got just 10 from their reserves. Diarra’s double-double was the first for UConn this season.
Columbia: The Lions have one more road game on Saturday at Albany before playing their home opener against Quinnipiac on Dec. 4.
UConn: The Huskies face Monmouth in Hartford Saturday afternoon, before next Tuesday’s showdown against former Big East rival Syracuse in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York.