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Charleston Classic: UConn falls to Xavier in double-OT thriller

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The Huskies had plenty of chances to win the game but came up short in the end.

The Huskies lost a heartbreaker to Xavier in double overtime
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Whenever Bill Murray shows up, things get tend to get weird. Murray was in the stands for the Charleston Classic semifinal and it was a wild one, as the UConn Huskies overcame a 10-point halftime deficit to hold a lead for most of the first half before letting Xavier tie it after regulation. The Huskies ultimately lost to their future Big East rival in double overtime, 75-74.

Freshman James Bouknight led UConn with 19 points, while redshirt junior Alterique Gilbert —battling a sprained ankle from last night’s win over Buffalo — chipped in 14, including a perfect 9-9 from the charity stripe. Juniors Tyler Polley and Josh Carlton added 10, and Senior Christian Vital chipped in with eight points and 11 rebounds of his own. They competed like crazy to stay in this game to the very end despite making their fair share of mistakes.

First Half

On this night, the Huskies avoided falling into an early hole, but were never able to stretch a lead out to more than five. Both teams traded baskets early, and head coach Dan Hurley tried a lot of different combinations without much success. UConn hung around though — despite eight turnovers in the first ten minutes — thanks to some clutch threes from James Bouknight and sophomore Brendan Adams.

Easy looks were still hard to find for the Huskies. Xavier’s Tyrique Jones logged nine first half points, as no one on UConn could contain him. The Huskies ended the half shooting just 8-of-27 from the field, giving the ball away nine times (Xavier scored nine points off those TOs), and ceded the rebounding edge toward the end of the period.

Second Half

Crisper ball movement and some Josh Carlton action helped UConn chip away at Xavier’s lead. A concentrated effort to feed Carlton while forcing some Xavier turnovers knotted things up just with under 14 minutes. UConn went on to build a one-possession cushion thanks to some big two-way plays from Jeremy La—, I mean, James Bouknight.

Eight Xavier turnovers, four of which were UConn steals, prevented the Musketeers from finding an offensive rhythm. It alternated between a one and two-possession game for most of the rest of the half, with both teams taking and making big baskets. Tyler Polley hit two clutch threes to give the Huskies a 54-51 advantage with 1:09 left. Xavier’s Naji Marshal hit an improbable three from the top of the key with 19.1 seconds left to knot it at 56, giving UConn a shot at the win for the final possession of regulation.

After taking the ball up the court, Gilbert held on for the last shot. He let the clock run down before driving to the basket for a highly-contested attempt that was blocked. It probably was not the best look UConn could have gotten in that moment. This would be a theme later in the game, unfortunately.

Overtime

Josh Carlton fouled out early and UConn found itself in a two-possession hole. Both teams were streaky and the refs’ whistles were blazing as Xavier took a five-point lead with 22 seconds left. Two Gilbert free throws cut it to three and then Vital made a steal in X’s backcourt with 13.2 seconds left to earn a chance to tie. Polley’s three-point attempt missed, but the rebound fell to Bouknight, who completed a three-point play after hitting a short jumper while fouled and sent the game to its second overtime.

2OT

Naji Marshall fouled out on Xavier’s first possession, but UConn once again quickly found itself in a hole. The Huskies always stayed within arms reach thanks to some clutch free throws from Gilbert. Once more, with 38.5 seconds left down one, UConn controlled its own destiny. A well-drawn play put the ball in Bouknight’s hands, and the freshman took it to the rack for a layup to give UConn the lead. But Bouknight fouled on the ensuing play, and Xavier hit both free throws to reclaim the lead. With 10 seconds left, UConn had another chance to win, but essentially threw it away. Gilbert held on to it, tried to drive again and lost the ball. It rolled to Vital, who grabbed it off the ground and tried to get a shot off but it couldn’t get in.

It started off as a really good game before kind of going off the wheels late, but this was a great contest and a lively night in the arena. The game looked over twenty different times for both teams, and both found ways to get back in it.

The Huskies deserve a lot of credit for the way they played tonight. Their young players are really growing into their roles, giving fans a lot to be excited about in both the present and the future.

If this night is any indication, it’s a good thing these two teams will be seeing a lot more of each other starting next year. It’ll be a twice-yearly battle in Big East play.

The good news is that there’s still more ball to be played down in Charleston. UConn gets Miami in the 3rd place game, and another chance to build that resume up for postseason glory. That game will take place on Sunday at 1 p.m.