UConn very well could have won this game, but there’s no one who can reasonably say they played well enough to deserve to. That’s something not often said about a team that had the lead for over 33 minutes of game time, but the Huskies simply made too many mistakes down the stretch to expect a win.
That’s not to say St. John’s (8-7, 3-6 Big East) played well. There were plenty of mistakes coming from the Johnnies also, but they did enough to keep it close throughout the game and then pounce on UConn (7-2, 4-2 Big East) when the opportunity presented itself toward the end of the game.
“Brutal, brutal loss,” head coach Hurley said. “Credit St. John’s, those guys, they’re just so relentlessly competitive. They were tougher than us, especially down the stretch of that game. We obviously shot ourselves in the foot quite a bit there.”
There are a lot of reasons why UConn lost this game, but it’s hard not to gravitate to free throws once again. It’s not a stretch to say that if not for UConn’s ineptitude at the free-throw line in the final 30 seconds of regulation the Huskies would be 6-0 in the Big East instead of 4-2.
Against Creighton, it was R.J. Cole who missed 2-of-2 while up by two points with a chance to ice the game. Against St. John’s, it was Tyrese Martin who missed 2-of-2 while down by one point with a chance to give UConn the lead.
The Huskies were only in a place to take the lead because of Martin, who hit a corner three to bring the Huskies within one on the possession prior. But when the opportunity at the free-throw line came, he just couldn’t get it done.
It wasn’t just Martin who struggled to hit his free throws; practically any UConn player who stepped to the line had a hard time. Martin was 5-for-8, Cole was 2-for-4, Josh Carlton was 0-for-2 and Isaiah Whaley was 1-for-2. The only Huskies who managed to hit all of their free throws were Brendan Adams who was 4-for-4, Tyler Polley who was 2-for-2 and Jalen Gaffney who was 1-for-1.
“As a coach, you’re pretty helpless on that one,” Hurley said. “A lot of that is, it’s routine and having the stomach to get up there and to make them.”
The final four minutes of the game were especially killer, with UConn going 4-for-8 from the line as opposed to St. John’s going 6-for-9.
UConn was shooting just 69.68% from the charity stripe already on the season going into the game which put them at No. 191 in the country, and the 65% output on Monday will put them even lower.
Now of course, UConn didn’t lose this game solely on free throws, the Huskies weren’t nearly as efficient from the field as the Red Storm. Both teams both hit 24 shots, but UConn just did so on 11 more shots. They even each made seven threes apiece, but UConn did so on four more shots.
So even though free throws aren’t the only reason UConn lost, the fact of the matter remains that UConn lost by four, and St. John’s made four more free throws.
The only bright spot, Hurley said, was freshman Adama Sanogo, who scored a career-high 12 points on 6-of-11 shooting while also adding four rebounds and two assists in just 17 minutes of action.
Despite his strong play, Sanogo didn’t touch the court for the final 12 minutes and change, something Hurley credited to St. John’s going small-ball.
R.J. Cole had an okay day, leading the team with 18 points on an efficient 4-of-7 from three but an inefficient 6-of-16 overall. Most of Cole’s scoring came early in the first half as well, scoring 12 points and all four of his threes in the first seven minutes of the game.
“We need a lot more production there from the guards,” Hurley said. “R.J. [Cole] did most of his damage early … Tyrese [Martin] gave us enough, obviously the free throws were critical and the missed layup at the rim late were huge plays.”
Martin finished with 14 points on 4-of-11 shooting, including 1-of-4 from three, and he was impactful once again on the glass, grabbing six boards, three of which were offensive. The most astounding stat from Martin were his six steals, a high for UConn in the season.
Monday’s game was also the second in the season for Akok Akok, who, after suffering an Achillies injury last season, made his return on Jan. 9 against Butler. He played just three minutes against the Bulldogs and just two minutes against the Red Storm.
“Akok’s not ready to be out there, physically,” Hurley said. “I thought getting him in there up 14 was a good time, kind of similar to Butler … we’re gonna really just have to just try to develop him in practice, and just get him in a place where maybe he can help us at some point this year but really building throughout this year into the summer, into the preseason, for a big second year. He’s going to have a chance to help our team, but he’s just so far behind.”
UConn’s next scheduled game was supposed to be against Xavier at home on Wednesday, but that game has been postponed. As a result, the next time UConn will take the court will be on Saturday when they travel to Nebraska to take on Creighton.