Poor 3-point shooting and a disappearing offense late doomed UConn men’s basketball in a loss to West Virginia, 56-53, in the first true road game on the schedule.
The Huskies (8-2) shot just 3-21 from behind the arc, with only RJ Cole and Andre Jackson making threes. After Jordan Hawkins made a pair of free throws with four minutes left to play, UConn failed to score until there were 12 seconds remaining.
With Akok Akok starting for the injured Adama Sanogo and Hawkins in place for Tyrese Martin, UConn put together a solid first half despite the abysmal 3-point shooting. The Huskies shot just 1-12 from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes.
Despite the inability to hit from distance, UConn stuck around largely due to Jackson, Whaley, and Cole. Jackson and Whaley were relentlessly cutting to the basket in the first half and getting dump-off passes from Cole, who had multiple defenders collapse on him, for easy buckets.
Cole was creating shots on his own too, bailing UConn out a handful of times deep into the shot clock. He finished with 14 points and Whaley led the Huskies with 15.
Meanwhile, WVU shot 50% percent from three in the first half, hitting some pretty well-contested shots. Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil did most of their scoring to start, combining for 26 points — 13 apiece — as the Mountaineers took a 32-29 lead at the half.
Cole did everything in his power to pull the Huskies back into it, scoring the first 10 points for UConn in the second half and hitting back-to-back threes to put the Huskies up 39-38 with 12 minutes to play.
Even as the Huskies started to stretch the lead and went up 47-43 after a Whaley dunk, WVU ratcheted up the pressure and answered back. The Mountaineers tied things up less than a minute later after a bucket from Taz Sherman and a layup from Paula Paulicap on a broken play.
After that, UConn’s sloppy play was its undoing. The Huskies turned it over three times in the final five minutes and scored just four points from the field in that stretch. They stayed within a possession due to Whaley’s put-back with 12 seconds left, but after McNeil made one of two free throws, Cole’s 3-point heave as time expired barely touched the rim to give WVU the win.
After Whaley and Cole, Jackson chipped in 10 points with five boards and some impressive defense on WVU’s Sherman, who scored 23 points but did so on 8-17 shooting. Akok struggled again offensively, but added a game-high 10 boards and had a big block on Sherman late in the game to keep the Huskies in it.
It’s a tough loss for the Huskies, but not one that hurts their NCAA tournament resume. While it was impressive to play this tight of a game against a solid WVU team on the road despite missing Sanogo and Martin, it’s was a winnable game where UConn let it slip away in crunch time.
UConn is back in action Saturday in Newark, New Jersey against St. Bonaventure in the Never Forget Tribute Classic. Tip-off is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET and ESPN2 will be broadcasting the game.