Fresh off a gut-wrenching double overtime loss to No. 18 Xavier, the UConn men’s basketball team bounced back in a big way Sunday, beating the University of Miami 80-55 in the third-place game of the Charleston Classic. It was a total team effort; four Huskies finished in double-digits, including Josh Carlton with a team-high 16 to go with five rebounds and three impressive assists. Sophomore Brendan Adams (13), freshman James Bouknight (13) and senior Christian Vital joined Carlton in double figures, and UConn improves to 4-2 on the season heading into Thanksgiving break.
Vital and Carlton got things going for the Huskies early, but they struggled to contain Miami’s 5- foot-7 guard Chris Lykes. UConn went 10 deep as early as nine minutes in, although containing dribble penetration and rebounding remained an issue on the defensive end. Things remained tight for most of the half until the two minute mark, where consecutive stops and buckets stretched the Husky lead to seven.
A well-executed hand-off and screen gave Bouknight nine first-half points and a nine-point lead for UConn going into the break. The Huskies forced seven Miami turnovers and held the points in paint edge 20 to 14, and that was able to negate another cold-shooting start from downtown (3-10).
UConn stretched its lead to 12 off a quick Vital three, and there was once again an added emphasis on feeding Carlton after the break. The Huskies executed their offensive sets well, while Akok Akok protected the rim with gusto. UConn soon swelled its lead to 15 and had complete control of the game on both ends. Players were actively correcting bad habits, like Carlton passing out of double-teams, or Bouknight keeping his hands off on defense.
With the Huskies in control, the inevitable lull became the key question; when would it happen, and how bad would it be? The answer? Minimal.
UConn remained composed on both ends and the lead expanded instead of shrinking. It was as smooth and in control as UConn has looked all season, and the way they imposed their will on the game resulted in Miami quitting early in the second half. That’s the hallmark of a good team.
Overall, UConn dominated the game on both ends after the first 10 minutes, and it shows in nearly every statistical category. The team’s depth played a big role in that; there wasn’t much of a drop-off between starters and substitutes.
A lot of that has to do with the continued emergence of James Bouknight, who continues to emerge as a go-to scorer. But it wasn’t just him. It became evident all down the roster that the players are starting to fall into their roles. On offense, everyone’s eyes had the look of they knew what they were doing. There was intent and execution in every possession. And on defense, there was that same cohesion on assignments that resulted in very few wide open looks for Miami. In short, the Huskies were locked in, letting their natural talent and length take over.
While a win today seems hollow after Friday’s fireworks, this will go down as a critical step forward for Hurley’s men in 2019-20. Coming out of Charleston with a win over an ACC school and MAC stalwart that were both top 100 teams in KenPom sets UConn’s resume up well for March. And if you go back to the last seven days and add in the big home win vs. Florida, it’s been a stellar week for the Huskies. Beyond the win column, the team demonstrated depth, toughness and cohesion that should have Husky fans absolutely giddy about 2020 and beyond.
UConn gets a week off for Thanksgiving and will return to action Sunday, Dec. 1 at the XL Center vs. Maine.