When the game clock read 15:09 in the first half, it was quite the ugly opening for the UConn Huskies. Star forward Adama Sanogo had picked up his second foul of the contest three minutes beforehand, limiting his minutes for the rest of the game. The Huskies had four turnovers to their name as well, and the Georgetown Hoyas were three baskets into an impressive six consecutive shots.
Despite the matchup really only just beginning, it wasn’t a good look for coach Dan Hurley and co. against a Georgetown team that had zero Big East wins alongside 16 conference losses headed into the game.
But then, things started looking up. Three quick buckets helped UConn take the lead 12-11, despite an injury to big man Isaiah Whaley, who would later return. Some back-and-forth play would happen for another few minutes or so, until the Huskies fully returned to playing to character and finished the half on a 25-12 run en route to a 86-77 romping of the Hoyas.
“That last eight minutes [were] critical in the first half. To try to demoralize them going into half, we wanted to extend the lead,” Hurley said postgame. “You know what they’re feeling in the other locker room. We finished the first half exactly the way a veteran team should.”
After the monster finish to the half, the game wasn’t necessarily close the rest of the way. The Husky lead jumped out to as much as 22 late in the second period, but credit to the Hoyas – they never lost their motivation. Besides doing a great job catching UConn off-guard early in the contest, Georgetown was pressing for a lot of the game, diving after balls on the floor and attacking the rim, earning 35 foul shots.
There was a period late in the game where the Huskies unraveled ever so slightly. With about three minutes left and the lead almost at 20, Hurley decided to pull the rest of his top guys, leaving veterans Tyler Polley, Jalen Gaffney and Akok Akok with freshmen Rahsool Diggins and Samson Johnson. With Patrick Ewing’s Hoyas still pressing, that group of five committed four turnovers and fouled once, allowing the game to get within 11 at just under a minute to go. The freshmen in particular looked rattled against the press, combining for three turnovers. At that point, Hurley had no choice but to send his starters back into the game, where it was time for damage control until the final buzzer.
Despite the few hiccups, there were a few notable performances from the Huskies. RJ Cole led the team in scoring with 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting, two rebounds and two assists. He nailed four threes, putting daggers upon daggers into the Georgetown comeback attempts.
“RJ has given this team exactly what it’s needed at the guard spot after losing a dynamic guy,” Hurley said about losing James Bouknight to the NBA on Sunday.
Whaley was feeling himself on Sunday as well, adding 14 points, including two three-pointers. He added a block and a steal on the defensive end in his “limited” time of 26 minutes. It looked like the frontcourt would struggle tremendously with Sanogo in foul trouble and Whaley leaving to injury early and with the injured Akok being a surprise entrant in the contest early. Thankfully for UConn, Whaley was able to return soon after and control everything down low for the rest of the game.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise for the Huskies on Sunday was the shine of freshman Jordan Hawkins. The Gaithersburg, MD native felt right at home in this one, finishing with 11 points on 3-for-6 shooting with an assist. The rookie looked confident and poised for all of his 21 minutes of play, and even took home the unofficial award for play of the game with his posterizing dunk midway through the first half. Hawkins got injured late in the game, but said afterwards he felt fine. This is more than a step in the right direction for the freshman, who has been inconsistent in his play transitioning to the college level.
“It’s been a lot of ups and downs, just learning from every mistake I made every game, learning from my coaches, the older guys. [I’m] just taking everything in this year and doing everything I can to get better,” Hawkins said postgame.
Also off the bench for UConn was Polley, who has been enjoying quite the stretch for his team. The graduate student forward also had 11 points, his on 3-for-7 shooting, and he will surely be needed come tournament time for the Huskies.
This game marks the fifth straight win for UConn, their third time going on such a streak this season. This streak in particular seems to be coming at the right time, and Cole had some ideas as to why this team is playing so well as of late.
“We’ve been ramping it up a little bit defensively. Any type of game where you lack a little bit, come back around. Just cleaning up the mistakes we’ve made in games before, and being able to lock in on defense — that’s been a really huge [factor] for us right now,” said Cole postgame.
Next up for UConn men’s basketball is a road revenge game against Creighton, who is currently 0-4 against all-time. Tip-off is set for 8:30 p.m. and the game will be broadcast live on FS1.