UConn’s men’s basketball had victory in sight, but let it slip away, losing to No. 9 Creighton at Gampel Pavilion Sunday. Despite a career-high 40 points from James Bouknight, the Bluejays prevailed, 76-74.
Bouknight scored 54% of UConn’s total points but it wasn’t enough as the Huskies stumbled across the final minute. The sophomore guard was 12-for-23 shooting and drilled four 3-point attempts but couldn’t get one to fall when UConn was trying to put it away.
Playing without Tyler Polley after a 17-day break between games, the Huskies (3-1, 0-1 Big East) took their first loss of the season in their first game back in the Big East. It ended in disappointing fashion — they led by three with 34 seconds left in regulation.
“I thought the guys gave a great effort, obviously a lot of things led to a very, very tough loss to swallow,” head coach Dan Hurley said after the game. “We should have been able to take care of that in regulation.”
Their offensive decision making was questionable at times, often settling for heaved three’s and making very few of them. They finished the night shooting 36% from the field and 7-30 (23%) from deep. Creighton won the rebounding battle 48-41 and also bested the Huskies in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage by about five percentage points each.
Bouknight had a majority of the scoring but his teammates chipped in other ways. Tyrese Martin made plays all over the court, grabbing 10 rebounds and a steal to go along with a vicious two-handed windmill slam in the second half.
R.J. Cole was UConn’s next leading scorer, with 12 points, but he missed two key free throws at the end and had an off shooting night (2-13 FG) overall. He struggled offensively but absolutely locked up Creighton star Marcus Zegarowksi on the defensive end.
UConn was downright bad for the first 15 minutes of play. They missed three-pointer after three-pointer, including nine in a row to end the half, and weren’t moving on offense for the first 10 minutes and the game seemed like it might get ugly fast. Then Bouknight flipped the script.
UConn got back in the game on the strength of 10 points from Bouknight in the last five minutes of the first half. After being down as much as 12, it seemed lucky for the Huskies to end the period down 33-29.
Bouknight kept going strong to start the second half, scoring 13 points in the first six minutes. The Huskies played incredible defense for most of the way, holding Creighton’s Zegarowski to 11 points on the night.
Despite the loss, Bouknight still made a statement with his play and so did the Huskies, who shook off the rust to go toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the country. And did it without a starter. They were carried by their star but it was exactly what they needed from the sophomore, who had struggled to put his stamp on the end of UConn’s first three games. If they can continue to compete at this level then they will be just fine in the Big East this season.
“Once we figure it all out, I feel like we’re a team that can really make a run in the tournament,” Bouknight said following the loss.
UConn’s next game is scheduled for Dec. 30 against DePaul at Gampel Pavilion. Tip-off is at 9 p.m. and the game will be televised on FS1. They had been scheduled to play DePaul on Dec. 23 but it was postponed.