Men’s Basketball: Huskies come up short against No. 11 Creighton

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For the second time this season, the UConn men’s basketball team came up short against its new conference rival from Omaha. No. 11 Creighton beat No. 23 UConn 74-66 on Saturday afternoon to ensure the Huskies would not be ranked in the next AP poll on Monday. 

The Huskies (7-3, 4-3 Big East) were playing without James Bouknight once again, and once again the offense really struggled in stretches. However, head coach Dan Hurley said that unlike the previous game against St. John’s, he was actually impressed with the team’s effort against the Bluejays (11-4, 7-3 Big East). 

“I thought we gave a pretty good effort for the most part,” Hurley said after the game. “We played hard. It’s not the same storyline as the St. John’s game where we just got out-toughed … We competed hard. We were tougher, we were all over the backboard. We just can’t finish in the paint. Just had a hard time scoring.” 

The offense was pretty brutal to watch for most of the first half. The Huskies were getting plenty of offensive rebounds, but they were converting on barely any of those extra possessions, no matter how close the shots were coming from. They were shooting under 20% for much of the first half, but their defense and rebounding allowed them to keep it close. 

Then something changed after the under-four-minute media timeout. Down 25-15 at the time, UConn went on a 13-4 run to go into the half down by just one point, 29-28, which was amazing given how poorly the team played for the first 16 minutes. The main contributor during that stretch was R.J. Cole, who scored six of his 14 total points in the final minutes of the first half. 

Connecticut forward Josh Carlton (25) drives to the basket for a layup against Creighton in the first half during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021, in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/John Peterson)

“That’s just the team we are, it describes our toughness,” Cole said about the team’s ability to not let the game get away from them, despite the poor start. “We had to put together the stops, and we had to start putting the ball in the basket, and that helped us get over that hump.” 

UConn actually managed to take a lead early in the second half and kept the game really close for most of the half, forcing a bunch of ties. But ultimately, the Huskies couldn’t contain Creighton’s explosive offense. The Bluejays went on a 10-0 run, leaving them up by 12 with six minutes left, and UConn was never able to recover from that. The game never got closer than six points again after that. 

“[Creighton is] a great offensive team,” Hurley said. “When they’re cooking, they’re one of the best offensive teams in the country, and we caved in. They were better than us.” 

UConn struggled to find an answer for Denzel Mahoney, who led the Bluejays with 20 points on 8-for-14 shooting. Marcus Zegarowski also had a good game, scoring 15 points, 10 in the second half.  

The Huskies had nothing to counter those two scorers. Cole played well with 14 points and five assists, and Adama Sanogo set a career high in points for the second straight game with 13. But there wasn’t a lot of consistency on offense for UConn, and Hurley said they didn’t get nearly enough production from the rest of the lineup. 

UConn out-rebounded Creighton 42-27, but that advantage was neutralized by the discrepancy in shooting — 51% for Creighton to 36% for UConn. The story of this game for the Huskies was the missed layups that really killed any momentum they could have gained from their work on the glass. 

“The number of layups that we missed, putbacks and point-blank shots, it’s frustrating,” Hurley said. “And then I think it became demoralizing and obviously affected our defensive integrity.” 

The Huskies will look to put this loss behind them as they welcome Butler and Villanova to Storrs next week for a couple of big conference games. 

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