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UConn men’s hoops cruises past Providence in Bouknight’s return, 73-61

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The Huskies won with ease at home as Bouknight dazzled and others thrived as well.

NCAA Basketball: Providence at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

James Bouknight returned to the UConn lineup and the Huskies delivered a complete performance in a convincing win over Providence, 73-61, at Gampel Pavilion Tuesday night. The win came one week after UConn (10-5, 7-5 Big East) dropped its first game against PC in disappointing fashion.

Bouknight entered the game off the bench and made an immediate impact, lobbing an assist in his first few seconds on the court and then getting a putback dunk that would have had a full Gampel Pavilion roaring. He finished with a team-high 18 points along with four rebounds in 24 minutes.

Tyrese Martin also scored 18 and grabbed seven rebounds, while R.J. Cole flexed his playmaking ability with 13 points and five assists. After a breakout 24-point performance against Xavier last time out, Cole showed more of the same, just in smaller doses.

Martin is just about the quietest killer there is in the Big East. His 16 first-half points were the boost behind Bouknight that UConn needed to keep its lead intact. He also grabbed six boards and finished with a team-high plus-minus of +17.

“He’s just scratching the surface, the guy’s got the chance to be a hell of a player,” head coach Dan Hurley said after the game.

The three seniors helped out a bit as well. After not playing against Xavier, center Josh Carlton found his form once again with a seven-point, seven-rebound performance seemingly out of nowhere. Tyler Polley played more active defense than he normally does and shot 3-8 from the field en route to nine points and a steal. He mixed it up a bit more offensively as well, rather than sticking around on the perimeter.

“Really proud, in particular, of [Carlton] today,” Hurley said. “I thought that told the story of the game.”

The freshmen — Adama Sanogo and Andre Jackson — didn’t make as much of an impact on the stat sheet, though Hurley did commend Jackson’s energy.

The first half may have been the most complete half of basketball by this team all season, besides the second-half of the Marquette game. Bouknight and Martin stole the show in the first 20 minutes combining for 28 of UConn’s 37 first-half points. The half fluttered out a bit later on because of some foul calls, but UConn put together a strong showing regardless.

The second half saw UConn keep a solid buffer and then build on it late to end up on top by 11. Carlton’s low-post efforts were huge for UConn, especially down the stretch. The bench’s volume was at its peak after his dunk through contact to secure an and-one.

A lot went right for UConn Tuesday night. Bouknight returned, Martin continued his hot-scoring streak, Cole kept his momentum going and when they needed someone to turn to — the unlikeliest of heroes popped up in Carlton. They finished their layups and played good enough defense to win. Now they have three days to prepare for the best opponent they will likely play all season — Villanova.

As for UConn’s NCAA Tournament hopes, the Huskies’ loss to Providence had them teetering off of many prognosticators’ bubbles. The win over Xavier may have pushed them back into the discussion and this win over Providence may be enough to get back into the Final Four. With six games left in the season, every single one will count, but at least this Husky team is as close to full strength as it has been all season.

UConn takes on Villanova on Saturday, Feb. 20 at 1 p.m. in a game that will be televised on FOX.