It was anything but a typical home opener for the UConn men’s basketball team inside a nearly empty Gampel Pavilion on Wednesday night. But the product on the court was solid for a team looking to garner some national attention in its first season back in the Big East Conference.
The Huskies (1-0) took on the Central Connecticut State Blue Devils (0-1) and beat them handily by a score of 102-75. It was the first time UConn scored 100 points in a game since the four-overtime Cincinnati game in the 2016 AAC Tournament.
It was a pretty strong showing for a team that just got out of a two-week shutdown last Thursday, but head coach Dan Hurley was not impressed with his team’s defensive performance.
“We were really bad defensively today,” Hurley said. “We were really disappointed with the way we guarded the ball, with our ball-screen defense.”
Despite the lopsided final score, this was a back-and-forth battle for the first 14 minutes. There were 10 lead changes during that time, and Central even held a lead for almost four minutes of game time. Jamir Reed made the Huskies pay for leaving him open by hitting three early 3-pointers, and Central’s other guards were scoring at will during that time.
“They have really good guards,” Hurley said. “We were brutal, but I also think Donyell [Marshall] did a great job having his team ready to play, and they played really well.”
Marshall, who was an All-American at UConn and admitted it felt weird going to the visitor’s locker room at Gampel, said he was happy with the way his team competed.
“For us to come out here and score 75 points … [against] a high major, great Big East team, and to be able to actually be in this game for most of it,” Marshall said. “I had to keep letting them know how proud I was of them coming out and playing hard and being scrappy and playing all the way to the end.”
After those tough 14 minutes, UConn was able to pull ahead and outscore Central 18-10 for the final six minutes of the half to take a 48-41 lead into halftime. The Huskies only added to their lead in the second half and finished with a convincing 27-point victory.
James Bouknight led the Huskies with 20 points and eight rebounds, and he had arguably the highlight play of the game when he finished through contact on a 3-point attempt and converted the four-point play to put UConn up by double digits in the first half. It was a moment that a packed crowd at Gampel would have gone crazy for.
“The whole atmosphere, not having any fans, I think it affected me throughout the whole game.”James Bouknight
“The whole atmosphere, not having any fans, I think it affected me throughout the whole game,” Bouknight said. “Having fans out there just makes the game much better, much more fun … But we just have to work with what we’ve got. Being able to go out there and play is a blessing.”
Aside from Bouknight, four other Huskies scored in double figures, including R.J. Cole, who had a really good UConn debut with 17 points and six assists.
“We have a great group of guys,” Cole said. “It was fun out there playing with them, and I can’t wait for the rest of the season so we can continue to grow together and take the steps we need to take.”
In addition to Cole, Adama Sanogo, Andre Jackson and Javonte Brown were all able to record the first points of their UConn careers. Sanogo in particular had a really solid night in his debut with eight points, and he made his presence felt with five offensive rebounds that led to second chance points.
The Huskies were sound enough on offense to make up for their defensive breakdowns. They had 22 assists as a team, which Cole said was more than the goal the team set for itself. They also shot a respectable 56% from the field and 38.5% from three. However, with a better team in Hartford coming in on Friday night, Hurley is expecting a much better performance.
“I’ll throw these guys a little bit of a break because of what we’ve dealt with the last couple of weeks,” Hurley said. “But come Friday night, I don’t want to hear no more [crap].”