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UConn men’s basketball rolls Iona 80-62

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Josh Carlton and Alterique Gilbert logged double-doubles as UConn’s starters accounted for 83% of the Huskies’ scoring.

Josh Carlton logged his fourth career double-double today
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn men’s basketball team defeated Iona College Wednesday night 80-62 to improve to 6-2 on the season. The Huskies have won their last three games by 18 points or more as they look ahead to a marquee date next Tuesday against Indiana at Madison Square Garden.

Junior Josh Carlton paced the Huskies with 19 points and 12 rebounds to hit the fourth double-double of his career. Senior Christian Vital (16), junior Tyler Polley (14), and redshirt junior Alterique Gilbert (12) all finished in double-digits, as UConn’s starters accounted for 83% of the team’s points. Gilbert chipped in 10 assists for his first ever double-double.

UConn built an 11-2 lead to start, converting five of their first seven shots, with Vital leading the way early on. Defensively, the Huskies were active with their ball pressure and help. Iona’s high ball screens were rendered ineffective for most of the night thanks to the quick double and hedge from UConn’s bigs. And in a noticeable improvement from last year, the team’s defensive rotations were much quicker.

The lead swelled to double digits after some pretty Isaiah Whaley buckets, but for the first time all season, UConn’s second unit didn’t get very much done. (At halftime, head coach Dan Hurley said the bench “didn’t maintain the level.”

Hartford native EJ Crawford helped Iona mount a 9-0 run and the Gaels even briefly took the lead a few times, taking advantage of some bad UConn jumpers against the matchup zone.

The Huskies were able to push its lead back to six, with Carlton in particular serving up a few big-boy buckets. But to close out the half, Iona once again fought back, with Gael big man Tajuan Agee proving formidable down low. Despite shooting 59% from the field in the first half, UConn went into the locker room with just a one-point lead.

They came out firing to start the second half and quickly pushed the lead up to 12. Polley kept finding open slots on trailing in-rhythm threes, and Carlton took advantage of the floor spacing to keep to cooking down low. Gilbert penetrated the zone under control, and was able to get the ball to his bigs in good spots on the block. The Huskies’ ball movement was pretty great thoughout. The game was mostly a track meet during a 27-8 Husky run, where Iona was unable to set into its zone and the lead grew to 20.

Hurley went back to his bench with 12 minutes left, but the unit gave back five quick points and could not break the matchup zone. Without wasting a second, Hurley grabbed (literally) all five of his starters and hockey-subbed them back into the game. The starters looked out of sync for a stretch too — with Iona threatening to cut it to single digits — but the Huskies eventually took back control.

Iona has established itself as the cream of the crop in the MAAC for the last decade. Hurley took time before the game to urge Husky fans to pack Gampel against a team that’s “been to the Tournament 6 of the last 8 years.” It may not have been a packed house at Gampel, but the team had lots of support, and responded with a remarkable effort.

UConn absolutely has question marks, and reasons to doubt its consistency or ability to be a major power this year, but the team has been really impressive since the St. Joe’s loss and addition of James Bouknight to the active roster. Despite the stretches of bad shot selection, or certain players going through funks, UConn has shown it can compete with anyone and has depth to overcome individual struggles. If they can beat Indiana, the Huskies might even pick up a top-25 ranking in the polls.

Next up, UConn heads to the sixth borough for the Jimmy V Classic on Tuesday, Dec. 10, against the Indiana Hoosiers in Madison Square Garden. The game will be televised on ESPN and is scheduled to start at 9:00 p.m. ET, but as the second game of the night is almost guaranteed to tip-off after that.