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Takeaways from UConn men’s basketball’s win over Buffalo

Tristen Newton shined with a triple-double, but is it time to be worried about the offense overall?

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn men’s basketball fought off a slow start to roll to a comfortable 84-64 win over Buffalo on Tuesday night. While the offense struggled, especially early on, the Huskies got key contributions from Tristen Newton and Adama Sanogo as well as quality bench minutes from Joey Calcaterra and Donovan Clingan to pick up their third win of the season. Here are some takeaways from UConn’s win over the Bulls.

Cracks Forming in the Offense

Patrick Martin: For the first 10 minutes, you could start to see how UConn would lose games this year; sloppy turnovers from the guards and a one-dimensional offense when shots aren’t falling. You always want to feed Sanogo, but when he’s not effectively passing out of double teams, ball movement sputters. And if the big man can’t establish a good position, plan B it seems is to put your head down and attack the basket. You know Doug McDermott is going to scheme something up to take away Option A. Can UConn create something in the halfcourt without Sanogo? It’s great Tristen Newton drew 17 fouls, but foul hunting in the Big East is never a sound strategy, unless you’re Collin Gillespie. Hopefully this changes with Andre Jackson and Jordan Hawkins back in the fold, two players who can create their own shot if the offense breaks down.

Donovan Clingan: Better Than Advertised

Martin: Another remedy to a sputtering offense? Donovan Freakin’ Clingan, who continues to impress as a backup. All 11 of his points were easy, free buckets, something that becomes so crucial when you don’t have much efficiency on that end. While he had two turnovers last night and could regress as competition ramps up, there is very little drop-off when Sanogo heads to the bench. His passing and screen-setting unlock loads of space and facilitate a ton of movement. He’s such a different look than Sanogo, teams will have to scheme for him even if he’s not getting post-up looks. Maybe we all did a good job tempering our expectations, but I did not expect the Bristol star to be this polished. You don’t have to run an offense through him, but he’s the perfect complement to a team that desperately needs easy buckets.

Dan Madigan: I was lucky enough to see Clingan play a few times in high school, and had a good feeling his offensive skillset and passing abilities would translate well to this level, but even I have been surprised with how good he has been so far. He still is a little bit of a liability defensively right now — teams will constantly throw him in the pick and roll and force that mismatch — but he has been such a good shot blocker that I’m not sure how much it even matters. It really is a luxury for UConn to have him off the bench. How many teams in the country can sub out an elite center like Sanogo with an even bigger one that can hold his own in the offense? I think he will take some lumps as Big East season approaches and stronger competition lies ahead, but going against Sanogo everyday in practice is no doubt fast tracking his development. He’s a special player.

When Should We Worry About Shooting?

Martin: The big offseason storyline was all of this shooting brought in. Karaban, Alleyne, and Newton were plus shooters brought in to stretch the floor, but are shooting 28.6%, 23.5%, and 16.7% from three, respectively. Joey California is scorching the nets and will be a weapon off the bench, but his usage is going to level out when Hawkins and Jackson return. That paint is going to get awfully packed if shots don’t start falling. It’s early. So early. Three games is not even a sample size. Newton said after the game he’s “gotta get back in the lab.” Shooters shoot themselves out of slumps, and you have to trust the coaching staff and these players they are working hard on it. Averages always even out, and at least two of those three above have done enough in their career to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Madigan: I’m not worried about the shooting. This offense is completely out of whack without their top perimeter scorer in Hawkins and best transition facilitator in Jackson. UConn also just shot roughly 50% from three in Gampel (10-21) less than a week ago. I’m willing to give it one more game or two, especially since Friday’s game is at Gampel, to see how UConn shoots before declaring it a problem. This is a small sample size nightmare, but the Huskies are shooting 23.4 percent from deep at XL (11-47) and nearly 48 percent at Gampel (10-21). It is harder to shoot at bigger arenas, and Dan Hurley has always lamented that he doesn’t love playing at XL because they don’t get to practice there before gameday. Maybe he just needs to bring some extra sage to snuff out some shooting demons in Hartford. Let’s revisit this after PK85.

“We couldn’t make open threes. I thought we had a bunch of them,” Hurley said postgame. “I thought Nahiem had some good looks, Tristen had a couple good looks. The more we play in here the better we will shoot.”

Triple Double Tristen

Ryan Goodman: While UConn wasn’t able to build off of its impressive display of long-range shooting last against Boston, Tristen Newton was quite the opposite, dropping 22 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds last night for the Huskies first triple double since Daniel Hamilton seven years ago. Newton wasn’t particularly efficient from the field (4-14, and 0-5 from distance) but he got it done at the charity stripe where he converted 14-17 opportunities.

“I feel pretty good about getting my teammates involved,” Newton said postgame. “Still not the type of shooting performance I want but I was able to get a lot of people involved. It wasn’t just me, it was a collective group.”

Coming in, Newton was a career 86% free throw shooter, so it’s no surprise that he shot this well from the line but it’s just incredibly comforting knowing you have a player who is almost always good for two points when he’s hacked. Something tells me UConn is going to try to get the ball in his hands during late game situations. Not only did Newton do a fantastic job of attacking the rim, he was also a major disruptor on defense with four steals. There were a couple instances where he could’ve passed into better looks for his teammates, especially on the break, but his drives were clearly effective and he was making Buffalo pay from the line. With Jackson and Hawkins still sidelined, UConn being able to get this kind of production from Newton is so important for the outlook of the team.