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UConn men’s basketball takes down St. Bonaventure, 74-64

The Huskies earn a big win to close out the non-conference season.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

No. 15 UConn men’s basketball took home a strong win in the second half of the Never Forget Tribute Classic doubleheader at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey with a 74-64 win over the St. Bonaventure Bonnies on Saturday.

Four Huskies reached double-figures, led by RJ Cole with 15 points followed Tyler Polley (13 points), Akok Akok (12 points) and Jordan Hawkins (11 points). Andre Jackson had 11 rebounds to go with his nine points.

“If we’re going to get those types of contributions, especially with two high level dudes out (in Adama Sanogo and Tyrese Martin), along with our defense, we’re hard to beat,” UConn head coach Dan Hurley said postgame.

Cole had a great start to the game in what could be considered a homecoming for the Union, NJ native, just a 15-minute drive from the arena. After drilling a three-point shot to get the scoring started for his squad, he took a charge on the other end which got an already-energized crowd into the game.

“We wanted to come out and be the aggressor,” Cole said. “That’s our identity — defense first.”

UConn’s defense was stellar in the first half, holding St. Bonaventure to just 31 percent shooting from the field while also forcing eight turnovers. Isaiah Whaley and Jackson in particular were their typically aggressive selves but the entire team was active in pressuring the Bonnies in the early going.

Despite the suffocating defense, St. Bonaventure was 4-for-8 from deep in the first half, which — combined with UConn’s 38 percent shooting performance in the first half — kept the game close. UConn only went into the break up one.

The Huskies led 27-20 with 3:22 to go in the half, but scored just one bucket after that and allowed St. Bonaventure to get back into the game with a quick 8-2 stretch.

It wasn’t all bad offensively, however. Akok hit two three-pointers from the right corner as part of an eight-point first half. Those accounted for half of the Huskies’ conversions from deep as they went 4-for-12 from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes.

“It felt amazing to be out there again and do it on both ends of the floor,” Akok said.

St. Bonaventure started 4-for-5 from the field in the second half, aided by Whaley’s third foul just 3:26 into the half which the Bonnies a more space inside to work.

As UConn floundered, St. Bonaventure regained the lead early in the second for the first time since midway through the opening half. It didn’t last long, though as Polley drilled a shot from deep with 12:50 remaining to give his team the lead back and on the ensuing possession, the Huskies forced an errant pass and a turnover.

From there, the game changed.

Polley’s bucket was part of a 13-0 run that brought the Huskies from down three to up 10 in just 2:59, which gave them their largest lead of the afternoon to that point.

UConn stretched its lead to as large as 13 through the middle stages of the second half, but St. Bonaventure didn’t go away and got as close as five. Cole and Jalen Gaffney each converted and-ones about two minutes apart — the second of which came with 1:28 to go. Each three-point play put the Huskies up eight, but the Bonnies hit shots on the next possession to bring themselves back within two possessions.

The dagger came with 44.2 seconds remaining, when the Bonnies decided to not foul down six and after running out most of the shot clock, Polley drilled a deep three to put UConn up nine.

No. 15 UConn finished the non-conference season 9-2 and will open up Big East play at the XL Center against Providence on Saturday. Tip off is at 5 p.m.