Men’s Basketball: No. 15 Huskies suffer heartbreaker to WVU

The Huskies beat Coppin State 89-54 in the XL Center on Nov. 13, 2021. UConn led most of the game and plays their next game on Nov. 17. Photo by Kevin Lindstrom/The Daily Campus

With just over five minutes to go in the game, University of Connecticut forward Tyler Polley got called for a shooting foul on a clean block of West Virginia’s Jalen Bridges. 

Bridges missed both. Ball don’t lie, the universal constant of basketball. 

But how can you explain the rebound and immediate turnover by Andre Jackson on the second foul shot? 

Dan Hurley certainly had no answer, as he buried his head in his hands for what likely wasn’t the first or last time that night.  

That pretty much sums up the entirety of the Big East-Big 12 clash that took place in Morgantown, West Virginia on Wednesday night, as both teams gave horrible performances en route to a 56-53 Mountaineer victory. 

The Huskies really missed key contributors Adama Sanogo and Tyrese Martin in this matchup, who were both out due to injuries. While there is a chance for one or both of them to return for the team’s games against Providence or at Marquette later this month, the team really needs someone besides RJ Cole to step up and score the basketball. 

Speaking of Cole, the graduate student guard had a tough time on the floor on Wednesday, shooting just 6-for-17 with 14 points alongside six boards and three assists. His five turnovers were a team-high and most of his production came from back-to-back three pointers about seven minutes into the second half. He stepped up in that spot which helped the Huskies regain the lead, but was invisible most of the game. 

To be fair to Cole, most guys on the team couldn’t get anything going, especially from beyond the arc. Before the guard’s back-to-back triples, the team was 1-for-13 from deep, and those ended up being the last that UConn would make, finishing a horrific 3-for-21. 

Breakout freshman Jordan Hawkins earned his third start on Wednesday, and to say he didn’t play up to his potential is sugar-coating it. Heavily. The guard finished the game 0-for-7 with just two points alongside four turnovers. While Hawkins will likely start again with Martin absent in next game, maybe he’d be better off coming off the bench in favor of Jalen Gaffney for what will be a tough matchup against St. Bonaventure. 

The other fill-in starter, Akok Akok, had a puzzling game. He was one of two players (Gaffney being the second) that had a positive plus/minus, but it didn’t seem that way from an offensive perspective. Akok made one field goal for two points, but really made his impact on the glass. He grabbed five rebounds on both offense and defense. 

“I thought Akok really battled on the backboard, [but] obviously he struggled. I wish he pulled the trigger on that three [late in the game] as the shot clock was winding down, it seemed like a bunch of guys’ confidences were down and they didn’t want to pull the trigger,” Hurley said postgame. 

And confidences were certainly down. Throughout the last stretch of the game, UConn made only one of their eight shots. The team’s only other loss to Michigan State must not have resonated enough with them, as the Huskies couldn’t figure it out late in the game offensively. With three minutes to go, UConn had the ball and was down by just a point, needing a momentum shifter. Instead, West Virginia forced a shot clock violation as the Huskies passed the ball around to open guys, with nobody wanting to be “the guy.” 

Cole finally was the one to step up on the next possession, but it was an overcorrection. Within three seconds of passing half court, he fired up a prayer three-ball that bounced hard off the rim.  

It’s possessions like that that keep them out of games. Fortunately, the play of the Mountaineers down the stretch, combined with some solid defensive possessions, kept them in this particular game. West Virginia shot just 44 percent from the charity stripe in this one, allowing UConn to stay competitive. In the last three and a half minutes of the game, the Mountaineers didn’t make a field goal, which is surprising since UConn didn’t start fouling until there was around 21 seconds left. 

The men’s basketball team defeats the University of Maryland Eastern Shore Hawks 72-63 at the XL Center on Tuesday night. The Huskies will battle Grambling State at Gampel Pavillion this Saturday coming in with a 7-1 record. Photo by Julie Spillane/The Daily Campus

Speaking of fouling, it seemed like the tactic of sending bad shooters to the line was going to work out in the Huskies’ favor. WVU was up by just one point when Taz Sherman got sent to the line with 21 seconds to go. He made the first shot, but missed the second. This would have set UConn up to only need a two-pointer to tie the game and send it into overtime, if they had only gotten the rebound. It was Gabe Osabuohien who came up with the ball and passed it to Sean McNeil, who promptly sank them both, all but putting the game away. Brutal. 

Believe it or not, there are a couple positive takeaways from this game. For one, Connecticut, especially rookies Hawkins and Samson Johnson, know what it’s like to come into a packed house on the road and lose a tight game. They saw all of the mistakes the team made and hopefully can build upon that. Good teams don’t develop overnight, it takes games like these to bind teams together and make them stronger. In the absence of Sanogo and Martin, this team needs to find itself and these tough matchups will expedite that process.  

Secondly, Isaiah Whaley may be the most important player this team has right now. Called the “glue” of the team by Hurley on Jon Rothstein’s podcast this week, Whaley had a team-high 15 points in this contest on a very efficient 7-for-10 shooting. He also added three rebounds and a block. While Cole will continue to be one of the top offensive options night in and night out, Whaley seemingly gives the team exactly what they need any given game. 

The Huskies look to bounce back after this performance as they head to Newark, New Jersey on Saturday for a neutral site game against Atlantic 10 favorite St. Bonaventure. 

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