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UConn men’s basketball comes up short against Seton Hall, 80-73

The Huskies couldn’t overcome a bad start in their first game back from another COVID-related pause.

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

A first-half 18-point deficit was too much for UConn men’s basketball to surmount as it fell to the Seton Hall Pirates, 80-73.

The Huskies kept climbing back into the game but Seton Hall’s Sandro Mamukelashvili and Co. refused to let them take over. Every time the Pirates' lead shrank, they showed up with a key bucket or three-pointer which UConn couldn’t stop.

“You can’t get down 18 against a team that good offensively. It was a little too huge of a hill to climb,” head coach Dan Hurley said postgame.

Seton Hall shot 50 percent from the floor (22-44) and from three (9-18) while the Huskies made 48 percent of its total shots (23-48) but just 32 percent (6-19) from beyond the arc.

Jalen Gaffney had a career-high 20 points in the loss with a pair of steals and assists. The sophomore point guard took over offensively at points in the game and flashed some of his scoring potential as he attacked the basket with confidence and turned in some beautiful finishes to match.

In his first game back from a broken wrist, Andre Jackson was the only Husky to finish with a positive plus-minus (+7) and set a new career-high in scoring with seven points to go along with four rebounds and a steal.

“We wanted to play him 15 to 18 [minutes], the fact we got him to 20 is encouraging,” Hurley said. “Obviously, we’re exciting about getting him out there more and getting that other guy (James Bouknight) out there too.”

Hurley said Bouknight has progressed to a point in his recovery from elbow surgery where he is a “game-time decision” for UConn’s next game.

RJ Cole, Tyrese Martin and Adama Sanogo all finished with double-digit points while Martin led the team with six rebounds. Brendan Adams and Tyler Polley each finished with five points in 16 minutes of action while Josh Carlton played just five minutes total.

UConn was lucky to escape the first half down just nine points to the Pirates. The Huskies were as fluid on offense as quicksand until the final four minutes of the half when Gaffney and Jackson willed the team back from as many as 18 points down.

UConn needed its young guns to step up since its stable of vets were all but silent in the first half. Tyrese Martin and RJ Cole didn’t make their first field goals until less than six minutes to go while Josh Carlton, Tyler Polley and Isaiah Whaley all failed to record a point.

Gaffney led the Huskies in scoring with nine points in the first — six of which came at the line. Jackson capped off a strong half with four points and four boards along with an earth-shattering put-back slam.

The second half went back and forth but seemingly every time UConn scored, Seton Hall answered to keep the hosts at arms-length. Mamukelashvili lit up the Huskies with 14 points of his 22 points in the second half. Even though they outscored the Pirates in the final 20 and got within four points numerous times, it wasn’t enough.

Ultimately, UConn dug itself too deep a hole in the first half and couldn’t make the plays it needed in the second to pull out the comeback win.

UConn’s next game is at Providence on Wednesday, Feb. 10 at 4 p.m. on FS1.