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Preview: UConn men’s basketball vs. Xavier | 9 p.m., ESPNU

Can the Huskies keep up their solid play in the Charleston Classic semifinals?

NCAA Basketball: Missouri State at Xavier Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

After a gutsy 79-68 win over Buffalo, UConn men’s basketball returns to action with a matchup against No. 18 Xavier in the semifinals of the 2019 Charleston Classic.

In the win over the Bulls, the Huskies got strong performances from Akok Akok (11 points, five rebounds), Brendan Adams (20 points) and a solid debut from freshman James Bouknight, who scored eight points and added six rebounds in just 11 minutes. They’ll need another quality performance from those three to hang tough against the Musketeers, who cruised by Towson for a 73-51 victory Thursday night.

Xavier (5-0) won’t technically be the highest ranked team the Huskies played this season - that honor belongs to No. 15 Florida, who UConn beat last Sunday. But make no mistake, this Musketeers team is playing better than the Gators have at any point season and should pose an extremely tough challenge for a Husky team that is still coming into its own.

Against Towson, Xavier took down the Tigers with a balanced offensive attack that featured four players in double figures. Naji Marshall, usually a key cog in Xavier’s offense, wasn’t one of them, falling just short with nine points while adding nine rebounds and five assists. Tyrique Jones, Marshall’s partner in crime offensively this season, posted a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.

With Marshall checking in a 6-foot-7 and Jones at 6-foot-9, their strength down low will be a change from the smaller Buffalo squad UConn beat Thursday night. Combine that with Xavier’s relative inability to hit the three (25 percent on the season), and this shapes up to a game that will likely be won in the paint rather than outside arc, even if the Musketeers did shoot over 40 percent from deep against Towson. UConn will need bigger lineups and quality games from Akok, Isaiah Whaley and Josh Carlton to have a chance at the upset.

As for UConn, the Huskies will most likely be without Alterique Gilbert, who suffered an ankle injury in the first half Thursday night and never returned. Fortunately for the Huskies, the emergence of Adams and Bouknight softened the blow enough to hold on for the victory. Even Jalen Gaffney, who had played sparingly in UConn’s first games, played quality minutes to spell Vital and Adams.

UConn will have its work cut out for them, but should be in good spirits after stringing together two quality wins for the first time in what seems like forever. With Akok coming off a career-best performance, Bouknight looking solid in his collegiate debut and a breakout game from Brendan Adams, UConn can at least keep things close if those three build off of Thursday’s performance and Vital, Carlton and Tyler Polley contribute in ways we know they can. It won’t be easy against a defense that ranks No. 17 in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom, but the Huskies may just have enough to pull off the win.

How to watch

Where: 2019 Charleston Classic - Charleston College, Charleston, South Carolina

When: 9 p.m. ET


Radio: UConn IMG Radio Network