UConn men’s basketball did just enough to stay consistently ahead of Hartford on its way to a 69-57 win over the Hawks at Gampel Pavilion Friday night. UConn is now 2-0 on the season, with three games scheduled for next week at Mohegan Sun.
“We have a lot of work to do,” head coach Dan Hurley said after the game. “We were incredibly immature from the 3:32 mark in the first half throughout the rest of the next 23 minutes.”
It was an up and down night for the Huskies. They came out of the gate with energy, making a lot of shots early and looking locked-in defensively, at first. But they faded in the final five minutes of the first half and also started the second half cold from the floor, ending the night with a much lower total than the 102 points from the season opener.
Like the first game, James Bouknight led the Huskies in scoring. The sophomore scored 10 points in the first 4:13 and finished with 18 points. Senior Isaiah Whaley notched 10 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks as he gave UConn the spark it needed to stay ahead in the second half. Jalen Gaffney was the Huskies’ second-leading scorer with 15 points. He seemed to attack the basket with more frequency as he set a career high in scoring.
To start the contest, UConn jumped out to a 16-4 lead thanks to Bouknight’s early run. The sophomore scored 16 of his 18 points in the first half. Hurley said he thought he was on pace for a “34-point” night, before losing focus.
“There’s some monsters waiting for us in the Big East and if he’s playing like this, then it’s not going to go the way we want this to go,” Hurley said about Bouknight.
Freshman Adama Sanogo was the Huskies next highest first-half scorer with six points on a trio of hard-fought buckets in the paint as the half ended with the home team up, 38-26. Sanogo also had a quieter second half, finishing with eight points, two rebounds and a block in 11 minutes.
The Husky defense appeared much-improved as well, limiting Hartford’s offense to just eight made field goals the entire half. They did seem to tire a bit later on in the half, though, likely as a result of their constant man-to-man defensive game plan.
The second half looked like a completely different game. UConn came out of the locker room bricking shots as it let Hartford climb back to as close as 40-37. UConn didn’t score a point in the first 3:59 of the half and didn’t have a field goal in the first 6:21. After getting into foul trouble in the first half, the foul calls continued, ending with 24 UConn fouls on the night.
The depth that Dan Hurley has cultivated on the roster helped him overcome the foul trouble in a game most predicted UConn would win by a bit more.
Hurley praised URI transfer Tyrese Martin, who scored six points and grabbed 10 rebounds in his Husky debut. He was one of the few UConn players on the night who made an impact in the final 20 minutes, according to his head coach.
“If he got a two-game suspension from the NCAA, instead of one, it might have been a bang-bang game at the end,” Hurley said. “He was a difference maker.”
Brendan Adams and Tyler Polley both had quiet nights despite seeing decent minutes and Josh Carlton logged a DNP after playing only three minutes in the first game. Freshman Andre Jackson also hardly saw the floor.
It was a tough game to watch at times, with the referees seemingly controlling the pace of play from the get-go, but UConn leaves with a win to maintain high spirits heading into the more competitive portion of the calendar.
UConn is scheduled to participate in the Legends Classic at Mohegan Sun next, with a game against Vanderbilt at 5 p.m. on Dec. 1 in the first game of the tournament. The game will be televised on ESPN2 against the Commodores, who are 126th in the KenPom rankings.
Hurley said they are waiting to see how the team plays before making the determination to make those games official.
“If they look good and feel good, then we’ll go into the gauntlet next week,” Hurley said on the probability of holding next week’s games. He did end the press conference by saying “See you at Mohegan,” however.