UConn men’s basketball stuck to its identity, playing the type of game it wanted to play. But the offense didn’t work, the defense lost its way, and the season ended with a thud in the Huskies’ first-round loss to Maryland.
This season, UConn’s offensive identity has been to crash the glass and use its offensive rebounding prowess to make up for their occasional lack of shooting ability. Defensively, it has been to block shots, limit 3-pointers and force turnovers against opponents.
“We played the way we’ve played the whole year,” head coach Dan Hurley said post-game. “I wish we would have guarded better and I think obviously we dug that hole. When you get 18 offensive rebounds in the first half and you just miss that amount of layups at the rim, it had a demoralizing effect on us.”
UConn grabbed more offensive boards (22) than it had made field goals (21), which seems impossible. The Huskies scored just 11 second-chance points from those offensive rebounds.
“It’s really frustrating when you get a lot of offensive rebounds and not really any points from it,” senior Isaiah Whaley said.
The Huskies were stifled by Maryland’s defense from the tip. The starting lineup shot 28.3% on the night, slightly worse than UConn’s total field goal percentage (32.3%). They were 14-42 from 2-point range and missed 16 attempts from deep. In total, UConn took 22 more shots than Maryland and got 11 more rebounds and still lost.
Maryland ran a five-out defensive scheme at them, with all of its starters under 6-foot-7. The Terps switched seemingly every off-ball movement and sent three guys at James Bouknight at times when he wasn’t smothered by Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Darryl Morsell.
The star sophomore didn’t look himself, finishing with 15 points on 6-16 shooting – as well as 2-6 from the free-throw line.
Normally UConn shuts down the opposing team's best player, but not this time. UConn got eviscerated by former recruiting target and Putnam Science Academy alumnus Eric Ayala. The 6-foot-5 guard dropped 23 points on 8-14 shooting with five rebounds, three steals, and two assists.
“I was scared to death of that matchup today because we didn’t have anyone who could guard him,” Hurley said about Ayala.
UConn got beat, there’s no way else to say it. Its season is now over and it will have about five months to recalibrate and reassess how to take the next step, now that it has re-emerged in the national landscape.
“I think just overall we showed, as a group, we showed just a lack of experience in a moment like this,” Hurley said.
This program has some steps to take from here but getting to this point is one of the most important ones it has taken in a long time. An intriguing and highly-rated recruiting class is on its way, and the core returners now have some experience under the bright lights. RJ Cole, Jalen Gaffney, and Adama Sanogo can expect to return to the Big Dance and maybe next time they’ll stay a while.
Hurley told reporters he came into this season with two goals: a top-4 finish in the Big East and an NCAA Tournament berth. They fell short of many peoples’ expectations this year, but this was still a good team.
“We’ve got a lot more to do as a program in terms of recruiting and developing and continuing to increase the talent here and just continuing to grow as a program,” Hurley said on the season overall. “But, yeah, this was a huge success.”