— UConn Men’s Basketball (@UConnMBB) December 19, 2019
Defense, defense and more defense. That was the theme of the night when the Huskies sunk the Saint Peter’s Peacocks 66-56 at the XL Center Wednesday.
The Huskies reached season highs in a number of categories and not all of them were good. They turned the ball over 26 times, four more than they did against Indiana, but forced the Peacocks to cough the ball up on 25 occasions. Ten blocks marked a new season-high for UConn.
“I’ve got to make adjustments with the way we’re playing offense,” head coach Dan hurley said postgame. “I need to do a better job limiting guys dribbling. Just continue to study and learn.”
Though he was a member of the “turnover brigade” with four turnovers after halftime, Jalen Gaffney had his best night in a UConn uniform. Playing with confidence in 16 minutes off the bench, he made all his jump shots, including a three-pointer, to tally a career-high 10 points. Gaffney went 2-for-4 from the line, but the freshman guard facilitated well with five assists.
“He was aggressive,” Hurley said. “He was assertive. When his physical maturity catches up with his skill and his game, he’s going to be really really good.”
“When I was out there I just got lost in the game,” Gaffney said. “I just played for the team.”
A team built on depth, UConn (7-3) saw nine of its 10 players in the rotation find the bottom of the basket. A 53.5 percent shooting percentage was an improved mark from eight days ago and Tyler Polley lead the way beyond the arc, making 4-of-6 from deep as the team shot 41 percent from downtown.
“I’m comfortable,” Polley said about his shot selection. “My teammates are finding me, I’m getting to the open areas and knocking shots down.”
The Peacocks (2-5) were held to a 40 percent shooting mark from the floor and lost the rebounding battle 28-26. Akok was a large culprit. The redshirt freshman swatted five shots, lead the team with eight rebounds and scored an efficient seven points.
“The impact that he’s had on the program and has on the game, he’s been really great,” Hurley said. “This dude’s got big things ahead.”
Alterique Gilbert scored the first basket of the night. It came nearly two minutes into the contest and after he had already turned the ball over once and missed not one, but two free throws. Akok added a jumper and a Christian Vital 3-pointer kept the Huskies afloat against Doug Edert’s make from deep.
Aaron Estrada’s 12 points were a team-best for Saint Peter’s. Derrick Woods, who was held in-check offensively, came down with seven boards.
The Peacocks opened with a full court press and it kept UConn at bay as the two sides battled to a 10-10 lock at the 12:10 mark. UConn turned the ball over seven times during the stretch compared to four by Saint Peter’s.
After the under-12 media timeout, UConn went on a 8-0 run, capitalized by a three-pointer from Polley.
Saint Peter’s battled to make it a four point game before the Huskies broke it open, aided by the double bonus. Bouknight started it with a layup before Gilbert, Vital and Carlton all went 2-for-2 from the stripe. A lay up from Whaley, a 3-pointer from Polley and a solo free throw from Gaffney folded into a mix of a 14-point run over a five minute window.
UConn entered the halftime break up 40-22 while shooting 61.9 percent. Of the nine guys to take the floor, eight had scored.
Vital scored seven of his nine in the first half. Gilbert was mostly quiet with a rare 6:5 assist-to-turnover ratio, though he poked away five of the team’s 12 steals.
Bouknight, overshadowed by his backcourt classmate, shot 3-of-5 for eight points, including a three-pointer.
The Huskies longest scoring spree in the second half capped off at seven points. Vital scored on a coast-to-coast layup and Polley followed with a three in transition before Akok hit a pair from the line.
From there, it was the Peacocks trying to chip away and the Huskies maintaining the power dynamic. Saint Peter’s scored and UConn answered. Polley became the game’s first double digit scorer when he made his fourth three-pointer of the night with 7:07 to play. Gaffney joined the club, one of four players in the game to do so, five minutes later.
Next up, UConn plays host to New Hampshire on Sunday Dec. 22 at 1 p.m. After that, they have a matchup with New Jersey Institute of Technology before conference play begins.
Thumbnail Image by Charlotte Lao / The Daily Campus