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UConn men’s basketball holds on against USC, 61-58

It wasn’t pretty, but UConn played good enough to beat a solid Trojan team.

NCAA Basketball: Roman Legends Classic Championship-Connecticut vs USC David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

UConn men’s basketball survived a second half push from USC and future lottery pick Evan Mobley in a 61-58 victory in Bubbleville at Mohegan Sun for the Legends Classic Thursday.

Head coach Dan Hurley is hoping after these two games he’ll find out if team can measure up against top competition. He wanted toughness and he got it in the first game. UConn led for most of the way as the Huskies improved to 3-0 on the season.

“If you’re going to be playing in March, you have got to win games like this,” Hurley said, after beating KenPom’s No. 45 team coming into the game.

James Bouknight, once again, led UConn in scoring with 18 points on 5-for-15 shooting with three 3-pointers and seven boards. Center Josh Carlton, who played three minutes in one appearance through the first two games of the season, showed up in a big way. He grabbed six of his 11 rebounds on the offensive end and scored nine points on high-percentage shots. It was outstanding.

“[Carlton] kept himself ready, kept a great attitude, got a chance to play and took advantage of it,” Hurley said. “We don’t win that game today without Josh.”

The Huskies also got impressive efforts from Isaiah Whaley, who contributed 10 points, five boards and five blocks, and Tyrese Martin, who crashed the glass throughout the game, grabbing seven rebounds as he scored 11 points in his first start for UConn.

The Huskies battled through the first ten minutes, going blow for blow with USC before taking charge in the final ten. They led by as much as 10 with 2:33 to go in the half, but USC crawled back to put it within five at the break, 39-34.

Carlton got started early in the first half. He was fierce on the glass and played active, switchable defense in the post. USC star Evan Mobley took just three shots the whole half, with two points and a rebound. Mobley finished with 17 on the night but missed a chance to tie the game on and open three during the final possession.

Bouknight got off to another strong start, scoring 11 of UConn’s first 14 points, but his scoring trailed off once again as the half went on. He did have a pair of solid looks later on in the half that didn’t fall and kept the offense moving with his solid passing.

After combing for 73 points in the first half, both offenses struggled to find a rhythm in the second half. UConn had a nine-minute stretch where it went 1-for-14 from the field. The two teams combined to score six points in the final seven minutes.

While UConn survived the game to stay perfect on the season, the Huskies still have plenty to work on. They fouled a lot and had bad defensive lapses along with the offensive dead period. They got outscored in the second half and USC had ample chance to steal a game where it looked like UConn could have put it away earlier. Their rebounding against a USC team with an impressive frontcourt was the difference, as they won the battle on the boards by 11.

UConn is due to play NC State at noon on Saturday at Mohegan Sun. The game will be televised on ESPNU.