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UConn men’s basketball ruffles Saint Peter’s feathers in 66-56 win

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The Huskies cruised to victory despite committing way too many turnovers.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

The UConn men’s basketball team took care of business Tuesday night, even if they didn’t always take care of the ball. Despite turning the ball over 26 times, the Huskies knocked out the Saint Peter’s Peacocks, 66-56, to improve to 7-3 on the season and 5-1 at home.

Junior Tyler Polley led UConn with 12 points, but nine other Huskies entered the scoring column, including freshman Jalen Gaffney with a career-high 10. Fellow freshman Akok Akok chipped in seven points, seven rebounds, and five blocks — his second straight game with five swats.

First Half

The game’s opening minutes looked like an intra-squad high school scrimmage, with fouls and turnovers aplenty on both sides. UConn’s halfcourt and three-quarter defensive pressure made things uncomfortable for Saint Peters, but the old adage proved true: pressing teams hate to be pressed. The Huskies coughed the ball up 13 times in the first half, yet the disjointed start on the offensive end was thankfully offset by excellent ball pressure and shot-blocking defensively.

After the Peacocks tied things up at 10-10, the Huskies rattled off an 8-0 run capped off by a Tyler Polley 3-pointer as the shot clock expired. Saint Peter’s was never able to get into a rhythm on the offensive end, and wilted under the ball pressure from UConn’s backcourt. Although the Huskies were often all too content to give the ball back to the Peacocks on the other end, UConn closed the half on a 22-8 run. The disruptive nature of UConn at both the rim and on the ball led eventually led to enough easy transition baskets that the Huskies closed the half with some semblance of a rhythm on the offensive end.

At the half, head coach Danny Hurley was quick to praise St. Peter’s coach Shaheen Holloway — Hurley’s point guard heir apparent back in the day at Seton Hall — for the Peacocks’ ball pressure.

“[We were] adjusting to their aggression and quickness. It’s a hard playing team over there Shaheen has. It took us time to adjust,” Hurley said of Huskies’ first half. “But everyone gave us something and we’re getting after it defensively and playing with energy. We just have to take care of the ball.”

Second Half

Spearheaded by unrelenting bulldog defense from redshirt junior Alterique Gilbert, UConn stretched its lead to 21 by the under 16 timeout. However, this is a Saint Peter’s team that whittled a 20 point deficit against St. John’s down to four earlier in the year. And given UConn’s recent battles with ball security, many were probably keen to see if the Huskies would let the Peacocks fly back into the game.

Although turnovers still plagued UConn, the lead never got to single digits. Gilbert also looked markedly better in the second half, constantly dishing after drawing a second defender. The floor general ultimately finished with a positive assist-to-turnover ratio (6-5).

UConn had eight days to stew over the fact that they essentially beat themselves against Indiana in the Garden. That loss stung because they were possibly a win away from top 25 recognition if not for turnovers and missed free throws.

While 26 turnovers and 12-17 from the free throw line are a little unnerving, the team continues to fall back on the power of relentless defense. Plus, the bench showed up again today with 26 points. Defense and depth should be enough to keep UConn in any game this year, but taking care of the rock is certainly a new years resolution with two games left until conference play and 2020.

Next up for the Huskies is New Hampshire, on Sunday, Dec. 22 at 1:00 p.m. ET.