UConn men’s basketball took care of Seton Hall, 69-58, in a game that started dicey but ended in a comfortable win. The Huskies improve to 13-6 and 10-6 as they lock up a third-place finish in the Big East — pretty good for their first season in the league.
James Bouknight had a relatively quiet 16 points and six rebounds, but the rest of the roster stepped up in a big way. Senior Isaiah Whaley lunch-pailed his way to 17 points and 10 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season. Freshman Adama Sanogo chipped in a career-high 16 points to go with nine rebounds, and RJ Cole, fresh off Big East Player of the Week honors, logged his 13th straight game in double-figures with 14 points.
The Huskies have won five of their last six, and are 4-1 with Bouknight back in the lineup. They’re playing particularly well at this point in the season, having won their last three games by an average of 14 points. Considered a 10 seed by Joe Lunardi’s bracketology going into the game, UConn is about to walk into Madison Square Garden as a legitimate threat to Villanova and Creighton. Nobody wants to draw the Huskies in March.
It was an impressive showing from head coach Dan Hurley against his alma mater. A road game on senior night, with 1,500 fans is a tough environment to enter when you need a win like this. Plus, the matchup nightmare that is Seton Hall star Sandro ‘Mamu’ Mamukelashvili made the Pirates a dangerous out, even despite two-straight losses.
It was Groundhog Day to start, with UConn once more deciding to spot its opponent an early lead early. Sloppy turnovers and a failure to close out shooters found UConn down 13-4 five minutes in. Six points from Sanogo and two Isaiah Whaley blocks on Mamukelashvili kept UConn in the early going kept UConn around.
A Whaley three — not a typo — capped off an 11-2 run that tied it up at 17, but the Pirates responded with a 7-0 run of their own as the UConn offense went cold. It fired back up just in time for Whaley to hit a putback at the halftime buzzer which gave the Huskies their first lead of the game at the break, 27-26.
Virtually every statistic between UConn and Seton Hall was in lockstep, with the two teams essentially trading scoring runs and droughts throughout the half. It seemed like this would be a tightly-contested game that would go down to the wire.
However, the Huskies came out hot to start the second half and stretched their lead to seven thanks to some timely putbacks from Whaley and Sanogo. Even though Bouknight picked up his third foul with 16:58 left, UConn’s defense allowed nothing easy and Sanogo continued to show off a feathery touch inside. Opening up a 12-point lead with 12 to play, the Huskies were in a groove.
To show how much UConn ramped it up on the defensive end, consider this; Seton Hall scored 24 points in the first 13 minutes of the game, and then six in the next 13. A Jalen Gaffney transition hammer helped UConn keep its mojo.
Seton Hall cut it to single digits on a few occasions, but UConn responded with plays from all over the roster. Mamu’s stepback three with 2:12 left would have cut UConn’s lead to four, but it rimmed out. All UConn needed to do was hit its free throws and take care of the ball to close the game out — whic has been a seemingly tall task this year.
This time, the Huskies missed only once from the line down the stretch and limited their mistakes to secure a quality road win.
In the first game, Seton Hall outrebounded UConn and shot 31 free throws. This time around, the Huskies gobbled up 40 boards to Hall’s 28 and limited the Pirates to just 14 free-throw attempts.
“We practice like dogs,” Hurley said after the game. “Our identity is defense first, rebounding second, and let offense happen to you. We have a ton of depth. We just wear people down.”
Expanding on UConn’s balance, Hurley noted: “It was a blessing in disguise when Bouk went out. It was tough sledding but we were able to ride it out and have [RJ Cole, Tyrese Martin and Isaiah Whaley] develop bigger roles. Now, these guys can step up on a night when Bouk doesn’t have it. We showed our depth today.”
The Huskies will conclude their regular season on Saturday, March 6 at home against Georgetown on CBS.
The Big East Tournament is from March 10-13. As the 3 seed, the Huskies are slated to play at 9 p.m. on Thursday, March 11 at Madison Square Garden, where they will face off against the winner of the 11 vs. 6 game Wednesday night.