PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP)—Jim Calhoun didn’t mince words with junior forward Jeff Adrien before No. 15 Connecticut played Rutgers on Tuesday night.
“I told him, ‘I need 40 from you tonight.’ There was no 25-minute talk. That’s all I said,” the Hall of Fame coach recalled. “I was nervous about this game. He gave me 40.”
Adrien actually only gave Calhoun 39 minutes, but in that time he had a career-high 27 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead the Huskies to a 79-61 victory, their 11th win 12 games.
“Anytime Coach talks to me about anything I need to come through,” Adrien said. “He talks to me and tells me I’m not playing like Jeff Adrien. Whenever I talk to Coach I always tend to step it up for some reason. He asked for 40 and I gave him 40.”
It wasn’t just Adrien, who had his 15th double-double of the season and 31st of his career, the most of any active player in the Big East.
Sophomore forward Stanley Robinson had 18 points and 13 rebounds and junior guard Craig Austrie had 18 points and was 4-for-4 from 3-point range.
“They were the guys tonight,” Calhoun said. “They were our veterans tonight and they combined to score our last 30 points.”
Connecticut (22-6, 11-4), which moved one game ahead of Marquette in fourth place in the Big East, the last spot that secures a first-round bye in the league’s tournament, was coming off a tough loss at Villanova on Saturday that ended the 10-game winning streak.
The Huskies weren’t overly impressive in the streak with eight wins coming by single digits, but four of the victories were over ranked teams.
“We are very secure we can win but we didn’t play secure the entire game,” Calhoun said. “But this was a good bounce-back game and it was the first time we had separation since Marquette (the first game of the streak when the Huskies led by as many as 29 points).”
Freshman Earl Pettis had a season-high 18 points for the Scarlet Knights (10-19, 2-14), who lost their eighth straight game. The last three losses were to ranked teams: Notre Dame, Marquette and Connecticut.
Rutgers, behind 11 points from Pettis—one better than his previous season high for a game—was within 43-37 at halftime, shooting 48.4 percent from the field (15-for-31), an impressive stat against Connecticut, which entered the game third in the conference in field goal percentage defense (38 percent).
The Scarlet Knights opened the second half on an 8-4 run with Anthony Farmer’s 3-pointer with 17:12 to play bringing them within 47-45.
Then came the Huskies’ run it seemed everyone in the building was waiting for.
Connecticut scored the next 11 points, the last two on a baseline jumper by Adrien that made it 58-45 with 13:02 left. During the run, Rutgers missed six shots and turned the ball over once. All of a sudden the Huskies were contesting every shot and it worked to get them some breathing room.
“We had a terrific first half against an extremely talented team,” Rutgers coach Fred Hill said. “In the second half our young guys never stopped playing hard.”
The Scarlet Knights shot 35.7 percent in the second half (10-for-28) and were able to stay reasonably close by going 4-for-8 from 3-point range in each half, led by Farmer’s 3-for-4.
Hasheem Thabeet had 10 rebounds and six of Connecticut’s 11 blocked shots. Reserve Jonathan Mandelove had four blocks for the Huskies, who lead the nation in blocked shots at 8.8 per game.
“This is a pretty key stretch for us. We needed this win, especially on the road,” Robinson said. “The crowd wasn’t there but we pretty much came in and took over. You could see them drop their heads a little bit and we took over.”
Hill was upset with the way his frontcourt allowed Adrien to dominate inside, using a street expression for how bad it was.
“We could have had some heart and played him a little tougher,” he said. “You are going against a guy who took your lunch.”
Connecticut sophomore guard Jerome Dyson returned after a nine-game suspension for violating team rules. Dyson, who averages 14.3 points per game, had three points and five assists.
“It was good,” Dyson said of his return. “I just wanted to be out on the floor with my teammates. That was the biggest thing that I missed, just being on the floor with my teammates.”