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UConn men’s basketball takes down USF, 78-71

Christian Vital and James Bouknight came up big down the stretch to get the win.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

The UConn Huskies hosted the USF Bulls and played fairly well throughout as they notched a 78-71 victory at Gampel Pavilion. UConn improves to 15-12 on the season and 6-8 in conference play.

Christian Vital led all scorers with 24 points on an 8-15 shooting effort to go along with six rebounds and three assists. The offense, led by Alterique Gilbert and Jalen Gaffney, moved the ball well, especially in the first half after James Bouknight had to sit due to early foul trouble. Bouknight finished with 19 points, 16 of which came in the second half, and gave UConn an extra edge down the stretch to seal the victory. He was 6-7 from the field and hit all five of his free throw attempts while playing just 16 minutes.

UConn got off to a rocky start to the game but seemed to be in control by the middle of the first half. Bouknight’s foul trouble was bad news for an undermanned squad, but in addition to Vital, Isaiah Whaley and Brendan Adams stepped up, with five and six points in the first half, respectively.

As a team, they found the extra pass, didn’t force up shots, and took a 31-25 lead into the break. The Huskies ended the game shooting 55 percent from the field, going 8-17 (47 percent) from three.

Seven seconds into the second half, Bouknight was called for his third foul and USF closed the gap as UConn got sloppy out of the break. It remained close for most of the second half, with inconsistency and physical play impacting both sides.

Vital’s playmaking kept UConn in the game before Bouknight checked back in with 11 minutes left and immediately changed the course of the contest. On his second possession back on the floor, he hit a three as the shot clock expired. He then hit two free throws after getting fouled on the fast break. The freshman took the house down with this putback dunk a few minutes later.

A Bouknight layup with 1:40 left gave the Huskies an 11-point lead, their largest of the game. Adams finished with 10 points, three rebounds, and four assists while Jalen Gaffney turned in a solid 10-point, three-assist performance. Whaley finished with eight points and five rebounds, scoring mostly on hustle plays. Josh Carlton and Sid Wilson didn’t see much time and while Alterique Gilbert didn’t have a huge impact on the stat sheet, he played great defense and was a solid facilitator over 27 minutes of action.

The Huskies will be in action next on Wednesday when they take on UCF at 7 p.m. at the XL Center in a game that will be televised on ESPN2.