A missed post shot and an allowed offensive rebound on the other end.
These two plays happened in succession, were the first two possessions of the game, and encapsulated the flaws head coach Dan Hurley was dissatisfied with postgame.
“Just happy that’s over with. Incredibly painful game to watch if you’re a UConn fan,” Hurley said. “Just a really flat, really poor performance on both ends of the court. Finishing at the rim was bad, we were in all the wrong spots defensively… To not be able to play better quality basketball at both ends was really disappointing.”
There were some highs and some lows in this lopsided affair between the Connecticut Huskies and the Binghamton Bearcats, but ultimately UConn got the job done, taking home their fourth win of the season by a score of 87-63. The blowout marked the fourth time in as many games that the Huskies won by 20 or more points, the first time they’ve opened a season this way in over two decades.
Granted, the teams that Connecticut has faced so far don’t compare to any of their in-conference foes, or any that they’ll see in the first two games of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament this coming week. But hey, you can only beat the teams in front of you, right?
The Huskies were great facilitators in this one, allowing each of Hurley’s “starting nine” guys to nab at least two buckets, with nobody scoring more than 15. Despite not seeing a true James Bouknight-type scoring threat at this point in the season, it doesn’t seem to be a problem for this team.
“We are way more mature than last year and we’re more of an unselfish team than last year. We pass up good shots to get great shots a lot of times, and we shoot the ball a little more athletically this year,” said guard Tyrese Martin when asked about his biggest takeaways from the first four games.
The star of this contest was Martin, who finished the day with 15 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, three steals and a block. He led the Huskies in each of those categories except for blocks. The senior looked very polished in this one, being aggressive on both ends of the court, attacking the rim on offense, getting to the line and not relying on a three point shot (he took zero the entire game).
“The aggression was there for sure today. Not to downgrade Binghamton, but I wasn’t going to settle for jump shots today at all, it wasn’t my mindset with smaller defenders so I feel like I did a good job with that,” Martin said postgame.
It was a very offensively efficient day for forward Tyler Polley, who enjoyed a 4-for-5 shooting day, including 2-for-3 beyond the arc. He finished with 10 points to go alongside two rebounds. It’s a good sign for UConn to see the reigning Big East Sixth Man of the Year bring a spark like that off the bench.
Speaking of the bench, other guys were able to contribute in a big way as well. Big man Akok Akok hit all three of his shots, including banging a couple of corner threes. For a three point shot that was formerly labeled by Akok as a side project, it is certainly looking like a dangerous weapon. Fellow junior Jalen Gaffney added a couple buckets as well, including a crazy acrobatic layup that saw his momentum slide him from the paint all the way to the three point line.
“It’s a strength of the team,” Hurley said of the bench. “Deep teams can have really good to great years. If you only play six guys, and four of them give you a C [grade] game or less and you have a short rotation you’re in trouble. If you have a nine man rotation that you really really love, and four guys have an off night, you still have five guys that potentially can play really well for you.”
For all of the offensive successes that Connecticut saw on Saturday, they certainly struggled from close range. By my play-by-play count, the Huskies went a disappointing 23-46 on shots inside the paint, shooting an even 50 percent. They had 17 offensive rebounds and only 16 second chance points to show for it. Guys like Isaiah Whaley, Adama Sanogo, and even Martin just couldn’t finish at the rim. Now look, they don’t need to go 46-for-46, or even anything close to that. But next week, they can’t afford to be making those mistakes.
Those weren’t the only mistakes the team had, either. UConn really struggled on the defensive end at times, giving guys a lot of separation at times, leading to more open looks. They were very present under the rim, blocking seven shots, but elsewhere it was very inconsistent. The defensive rebounding was troubling as well, as the Bearcats got 12 second chance opportunities. Fortunately for the Huskies, Binghamton is not the most talented team they will face this year, as they missed a large amount of uncontested shots. Top 100 teams will capitalize on plays like those in the future.
“We didn’t force anywhere near the amount of turnovers we should have forced in this game with our athleticism. Isaiah [Whaley] obviously rebounded his position as a frontcourt player, but our other frontcourt players didn’t rebound the ball cleanly so we couldn’t get out in transition with pace and outlet moves,” Hurley asserted.
One really important takeaway from this game was the usage of Jordan Hawkins. The only freshman to play more than two minutes in this one, Hawkins looks like he makes Hurley’s “starting eight” a “starting nine,” as he could really contribute to this team come tournament time. He finished 5-for-8 for 11 points with two rebounds.
Things got a little chippy in the middle of the second half, when Binghamton forward Ogheneyole Akuwovo committed a hard foul on a driving Andre Jackson. A lot of words were exchanged, particularly between Sanogo, Akuwovo, and the Bearcats’ John McGriff. After all was said and done, two technicals were given, against both Sanogo and Akuwovo.
“I wasn’t a fan of the flagrant,” said Jackson. “I think that got me going, made me get into the game more, maybe be more competitive on both ends and really just take it personal after it happened. I approached the game with a different sense of passion and I started to bring more energy. It was a good thing and a bad thing.”
UConn will be looking for their fifth straight win when they take on No. 21 Auburn on Wednesday in their first game of the Battle 4 Atlantis.