MBB: Polley leads huge 2nd-half comeback for Huskies

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At the 17 minute mark of the second half, it looked like it was going to be a rough night in Milwaukee for the UConn men’s basketball team. Marquette had just scored 10 straight points coming out of the half to build a 41-23 lead over a UConn team that was struggling mightily.

However, from that point, it was a completely different story. The Huskies (5-1, 2-1 Big East) rallied back and outscored Marquette (6-6, 2-4 Big East) by 29 points the rest of the game to secure a 65-54 win over the Golden Eagles, one of the most impressive wins of the Dan Hurley era so far.

“We were in a point of the game that we couldn’t imagine we’d find ourselves in,” Hurley said about the deficit. “It was like a boxer going to the stool after just getting rocked, and we had to decide if we wanted to get off the stool and continue to fight. It just showed a lot of character.”

Tyler Polley led the charge in the comeback, scoring a career high 23 points, all of them coming in the second half. He went 8-for-12 from the field and hit five 3-pointers, two of them coming at crucial moments to put UConn in the lead. After a slow start, he said he really started to feel good after converting the big and-one in transition, and from there, he basically couldn’t miss.

UConn forward Tyler Polley (12) takes a shot. Photo by Michael Wittliff/Marquette Athletics

“After that and-one, I’m like ‘I’m here,’” Polley said. “If I touch the ball and I shoot it, it’s going in. That’s how it felt like tonight.”

Polley, who came back from a torn ACL to start the season, said the road hasn’t been easy, but his teammates and his coaches were really happy for him after a huge game to lead the Huskies to a win.

“You feel great any time one of the good guys delivers at that level,” Hurley said. “Knowing the rehab and the road he’s traveled to get back and the losing he went through early in his career, and now to go up to a great league in a big spot delivering, couldn’t happen to a better guy.”

Polley was terrific, but he didn’t mount the comeback alone. His fellow senior Isaiah Whaley also had a huge night, scoring 15 points and grabbing 13 rebounds for his second double-double of the season. He also hit the first 3-pointer of his career. Hurley said the coaching staff had him listen to heavy metal to fire him up before the game, and it seemed to work.

“He was awesome today,” Hurley said. “When he’s right and when he’s energized, when he’s all over the backboard and he’s super active, he’s an all-conference level player.”

Notably uninvolved in the comeback was the Big East’s leading scorer coming into the game James Bouknight. Marquette held him to just six points on 3-of-12 shooting, and he suffered a hyperextended elbow that hampered him in the second half. However, the Huskies were able to overcome his absence with contributions from the rest of the team to mount the massive comeback.

“When you’re in year three of rebuilding a program, you can overcome a performance like that [by Bouknight] because you have enough culture and you have enough character built up,” Hurley said. “We don’t want him to do that a lot what he did today, but it’s gonna happen.”

On the Marquette side, Dawson Garcia was having his way with the UConn defense especially in the first half, and he finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds. 

UConn struggled offensively in the first half, hitting just one 3-pointer and shooting just 33%, but in the second half they shot 50% overall and 70% from three, helped greatly by Polley’s brilliance. Hurley said it’s great to show out for the UConn fans with an exciting comeback win like that on the road.

“We’re thrilled that during a difficult time in this country with everything that’s going on, hopefully we can do our part and play great ball for them and have a really good year and give everybody in Connecticut and all the fans across the country something to look forward to during a brutal time,” Hurley said.

Next up on the Huskies’ road trip is Butler on Saturday at 4 p.m. That game can be watched on CBS Sports Network.

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