Coming into Tuesday night’s game against the No. 17 University of Connecticut Huskies, the Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks were 0-26 against ranked teams.
0-26 no longer.
You guessed it, the Huskies took care of business against the Hawks at the XL Center on UConn basketball’s first ever Pride Night, dropping Maryland-Eastern Shore to 0-27 all-time against Top 25 schools.
But it didn’t come as easily as expected. Despite trailing for only over a minute and a half of the game, Connecticut really had to grind to walk away with this nine-point victory.
The game was a bit of a shock for the Huskies, who faced a UMES squad that ranked just 356th in offensive efficiency in the country heading into the game, according to the Kenpom ratings. They sure didn’t show it, as they hit some highly contested shots en route to a solid 50% from the floor before halftime. UConn’s defense was spotty as they had a few horrible possessions, including one miscommunication that gave a Hawk an open look right under the basket.
One of the biggest problems for the Huskies was their rebounding, as the Hawks won the first half battle of the boards 14-11, despite their four-guard lineup. Starting forwards Adama Sanogo and Isaiah Whaley combined for zero rebounds in the opening period.
Whatever talk UConn had in the second half, it certainly didn’t have the desired effect, at least for the first few minutes. Up by eight points to start, the team went 0-7 from the floor and 1-4 from the charity stripe to start the half, with the Hawks getting within a point of the Huskies on two different occasions. Things started to slowly pick up for Connecticut, as the team increased their lead as the game went on, taking down UMES by a score of 72-63.
“They spread us out. Their guards overall were able to get to whatever spots they wanted to on the court, minus RJ [Cole]… They made a lot of tough shots, they drove us, they played great. We obviously had our issues out there, but credit them,” head coach Dan Hurley said postgame.
Hurley took a lot of the blame for Tuesday’s showing, saying that he “did a horrible job preparing these guys for playing this game” and he “will not allow us to look like that again.”
A surprise scratch for the game was guard Tyrese Martin, who was out with a wrist injury. They sure missed his impact in this one. Coach Hurley said that Martin is dealing with a “sprain with a little bit of an avulsion fracture,” and could be out for two to four weeks.
In his place was Hawkins, who has been gradually working his way into more quality minutes for UConn. He had an underwhelming performance in this contest, struggling early. In the first half, he went 0-2 with a rebound and two fouls. He had a few highlights in the second, however, notably tipping in a basket off a missed free throw from Adama Sanogo. .
Sanogo struggled in this one, going just 3-8 for the game, all in the first half. He faltered at the line as well, shooting a horrendous 2-6 from the stripe. The Big East Player of the Week got taken out in the middle of the section half to head to the locker room and returned to the bench with around five minutes to play. Coach Dan Hurley said that there was a lower abdominal injury, and his status will be up in the air until Wednesday.
It was a tale of two halves for fellow big man Whaley, who had two points and a block in the first period. He finished the game with five blocks and two steals, as well as seven offensive rebounds, giving the team a massive boost down the stretch.
The MVP of the game was once again guard RJ Cole, who played a whopping 38 minutes of game time, scoring 25 points alongside four assists, five rebounds, an assist and a block. He was seemingly everywhere, knocking down big shots when UConn needed them the most. Cole excelled at getting to the line as well, notably driving with a second left on the shot clock and drilling both late in the game. He finished 7-7 from the line.
“We need that from him. Best guard in the league, which is what he’s shooting for this year, he shows up every night,” Hurley said. “We’re obviously going to need others to give us more than what we got in extended minutes. RJ, he’s played great, he’s been a great guard.”
Another player with a quietly good game was junior Andre Jackson, who looked like he would lead the team in everything but points at the rate he was going in the first half. Jackson finished with seven rebounds, four points, four assists and three steals despite getting significantly less minutes in the second half.
The Huskies take this game and look to significantly improve moving forward, even with Martin’s few-week absence and the status of Sanogo still unclear. They are set to take on Grambling State on Saturday at Gampel Pavilion.