It was a Thursday of mixed results for the UConn men’s basketball team.
In the morning, the team announced that Alterique Gilbert, who had missed the previous five games with a shoulder injury, was finally cleared to play. Meanwhile, graduate student Kassoum Yakwe’s UConn career came to a disappointing end, as he’ll undergo season-ending surgery on his right foot.
The dampened good news set the tone for Thursday night’s matchup at SMU (13-12, 5-8 The American). On the bright side … Gilbert played?
That’s mostly where the positives end for the Huskies (13-13, 4-9 The American). Gilbert showed flashes of his usual playmaking ability, but struggled mightily with his shot, as did the rest of the team. Meanwhile, the Mustangs put on a shooting clinic, running away with it in the second half and defeating UConn, 77-59, at Moody Coliseum.
“We dishonored the uniform tonight,” head coach Dan Hurley told the Journal Inquirer after the game. “There will be changes going into Sunday.”
The Mustangs snap a five-game losing streak, leap-frogging UConn for ninth-place in the conference. The Huskies, on the other hand, have now lost four straight since senior Jalen Adams went down with an MCL sprain and are still winless (0-7) in true road games this season.
Sophomore Tyler Polley led the way for UConn with 19 points and three rebounds, including 5-of-9 from deep. UConn shot just 30 percent from the floor and continued to struggle mightily from the free throw line, going just 7-of-13 from the stripe.
The offense was ugly, but it was on the defensive end that the Huskies were exposed badly. The Mustangs shot 57 percent and senior Jahmal McMurray was simply unstoppable all night, pouring in 25 points on 10-of-14 shooting.
After a mostly competitive first half, UConn’s offense crumbled during the last five minutes of the period. The Mustangs, who shot 58 percent in the half but also turned it over 11 times, closed on a 10-2 run as the Huskies missed nine of their last 10 shots. That translated into an eight-point deficit for UConn at the break, a gap they never closed.
Gilbert, who logged extended minutes off the bench, showed some obvious rust. The redshirt sophomore missed his first three shots before finally getting one to go with under two minutes left in the first half. He finished just 3-of-10 for six points along with three assists and four boards.
An 11-1 UConn run in the second half trimmed the deficit to single digits with four minutes to play, capped by a Gilbert floater in the lane. Unsurprisingly, it was McMurray who answered, drilling a deep 3 on the other end to stop the run.
The Huskies will now have to win at least four of their remaining six games to avoid finishing below .500 for the second consecutive season. With USF, Temple and Cincinnati remaining on the slate, that won’t be easy.