It was the James Bouknight show in Storrs Wednesday night as the sophomore guard firmly established himself as UConn’s leading player in a big win over Central Connecticut State, 102-75.
Bouknight came out blazing, scoring the Huskies’ first field goal of the season, and kept going all night, finishing with 20 points and eight rebounds. He did walk off limping after a hard fall, but was in good spirits on the bench for the remainder of the game.
Dan Hurley’s squad had five different double-digit scorers in the victory effort, three with 15 points or more. As a team they were much more efficient on offense than they were on average last season, hitting 58.8% of their field goals and 42.9% of their three-point attempts.
Hurley went with a small three-guard starting lineup of R.J. Cole, Jalen Gaffney, Bouknight, Tyler Polley and Isaiah Whaley to start out the game.
“The lineup today was more of a reflection on getting the most experienced guys on the court,” Hurley said.
The Huskies were also really active on the glass, out-rebounding the Blue Devils by 21. UConn saw seven or more boards from four different players, including Bouknight, Isaiah Whaley, Tyler Polley and Adama Sanogo. The freshman Sanogo was running the floor surprisingly well once he hit the floor, grabbing seven rebounds and eight points in 17 minutes. It was an impressive debut for the four-star recruit.
RJ Cole also showed promise in his Husky debut. Cole dropped 17 points on 5-for-13 shooting and dished six assists. Despite those numbers, Hurley said after the game he expects more from the newly-eligible transfer from Howard.
UConn didn’t look particularly strong defensively in the first half, seeing frequent lapses as CCSU finished the half shooting 54% from the field and 57% from three. A CCSU team that scored just 63.2 per game last season finished with 75 on the night.
Hurley expressed disappointment with the defensive effort, especially with control on the perimeter. He said that Andre Jackson was the only player disrupting on the defensive end, and he really only started in the second half.
“We were really bad defensively today, we were really disappointed with the way we guarded the ball,” Hurley said.
UConn started the game off strong but started to look sluggish after the first five minutes. CCSU took their first lead seven minutes into the game on a three-pointer from Jamir Reed on the fast break. It became much more of a battle than anticipated after that point, with the two teams trading blows back and forth without a ton of defense on either side.
UConn eventually took over thanks to Sanogo’s offensive rebounding and transition scoring from Bouknight. The Huskies mounted a run late, scoring 10 straight points in the final minutes as they finished the half up, 48-41.
The second half was all UConn from wire to wire, as they stifled the early turnovers on their end and forced some on the defensive end. They still had some defensive lapses, though.
Tyler Polley returned to the starting lineup for the first time since his injury in January and provided a much needed outside shooting threat to pair with Cole and Bouknight. He finished the night with 14 points on 5-for-10 shooting.
Freshman Andre Jackson struggled to contribute early, giving away three turnovers in his first minutes. He did grab a pair of defensive rebounds, though, which is something Hurley could use from anyone after finishing 199th in the country last season in that category.
Jackson looked better in the second half, slamming home a pair of dunks, including a lob midway through the second half, after smacking an emphatic block against the boards on the previous defensive possession.
Whaley continued his success from last season with 12 points and seven boards. He even added a few big jams early in the second half to go along with his solid inside play.
CCSU head coach and living UConn legend Donyell Marshall, one of the program’s first big stars as a player in the mid-1990’s, said he was happy to be back in Storrs, but the game felt a bit weird without the fans there. He later said the game felt a bit more like a scrimmage than anything. Dan Hurley agreed.
“Today was like an extended practice,” he said.
Up next, the Huskies take on the University of Hartford in another game at Gampel Pavilion that will tip off at 8 p.m., this one will be televised on CBS Sports Network. You can keep up with all the men’s basketball scheduling updates here.