Men’s Basketball: Huskies soar over Skyhawks on opening night 

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UConn Men’s Basketball claim an 83-54 victory over Stonehill in their first game of the season on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022, at the XL Center in Hartford. UConn Men’s Basketball will return against Boston University on Friday, Nov. 11 at 6:00 p.m. in Gampel Pavilion. Photo by Izzi Barton/The Daily Campus

HARTFORD — Amidst all of the fanfare that comes from playing in the Basketball Capital of the World, the UConn men’s basketball team took care of business on their opening night, taking down the Stonehill Skyhawks by a score of 85-54. 

Monday night marked the first ever game at the Division I level for the Skyhawks, who recently moved from Division II’s NE10 to the NEC. As expected, the team entered the night with little DI experience, with just two players in their starting five, Thatcher Stone and Isaiah Burnett, getting prior minutes at this level. 

“They’re fantastic, a phenomenal team,” said Stonehill head coach Chris Kraus about UConn postgame. “We’ve never seen the length and athleticism across the board from where we played before.” 

While Big East Preseason Player of the Year Adama Sanogo was a key contributor last year, outside of sophomore guard Jordan Hawkins, the starting five was made up of relatively new faces. Among the brand new included guards Tristen Newton and Nahiem Alleyne, transfers from East Carolina and Virginia Tech, respectively. Rounding out the lineup was sophomore forward Samson Johnson, who looks to get vastly more minutes than the 5.3 per game he got in his freshman campaign. With so many new players out there, Huskies head coach Dan Hurley saw a bit of a lack of the culture he’s created in Storrs. 

“We’ve brought in transfers that have literally been with us for a couple months, and the pre-existing culture, it just takes time to build,” explained Hurley. “I yelled out on the court several times that I just didn’t see enough passion.” 

UConn Men’s Basketball claim an 83-54 victory over Stonehill in their first game of the season on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022, at the XL Center in Hartford. UConn Men’s Basketball will return against Boston University on Friday, Nov. 11 at 6:00 p.m. in Gampel Pavilion. Photo by Izzi Barton/The Daily Campus

Despite the camaraderie struggles, expected in the first game of the year, Connecticut did their job — comfortably won against a weaker opponent. The two team stats that really stood out were the rebounds and turnovers. The Huskies grabbed 44 boards to the Skyhawks’ 24, and forced 24 turnovers while yielding 15. 

One of the few bright spots for the Skyhawks was forward Maxwell Zegarowski. The brother of both former Creighton star Marcus Zegarowski and NBA talent Michael Carter-Williams, the graduate transfer had eight points on 2-for-4 shooting. 

The crowd of 9,116 at the XL Center grew very quiet about 11 minutes into the contest, with Hawkins going up for a rebound in traffic and taking a hard fall on his back. Despite signs pointing to a head injury, he was able to get up on his own power, and after some back-and-forth in and out of the tunnel, returned to the bench in a hoodie for the rest of the game. The sophomore guard hadn’t yet found his shot, going 0-4 with three missed three-pointers, but made an impact elsewhere, grabbing three rebounds and blocking a shot. 

“Hopefully he’s okay,” said Hurley. “Doctors are checking him out and we’ll see how he does symptom-wise… not sure if it is a concussion or not.” 

The two freshmen that saw significant minutes each had their share of growing pains, with forward Alex Karaban, first off the bench for the Huskies, made a mental mistake in his first defensive possession, leaving a clear path for a Skyhawk to the basket, instead opting for the off-ball man in the 2-on-1. Luckily for Karaban, Hawkins was there to bail him out with an out-of-nowhere chasedown block. Things picked up quickly from there, as the rookie found his footing. 

“It was a surreal feeling,” said Karaban of his debut. “In the beginning I was nervous, I was jittery. I expected those but when I got into the flow of the game, I was feeling myself… it felt amazing.” 

Connecticut native Donovan Clingan got his “welcome to the collegiate level” moment early on as well, as in his first possession on the court, the first-year committed an illegal screen violation. 

Besides these little hiccups, the freshmen made it clear they will be significant contributors to the squad moving forward. Clingan in particular was impressive, taking full advantage of his six inch height difference between him and 6-8 Stonehill center Cole Bergan. He finished the night with nine points on 4-for-6 shooting alongside seven rebounds and four blocks, setting the tone defensively as an enforcer. 

Connecticut ran into a bit of foul trouble early, with Newton and big men Sanogo, Clingan and Johnson each having two fouls before the end of the first half. Hurley limiting their minutes, as well as more cautious play, ensured that no Husky would foul out. 

UConn Men’s Basketball claim an 83-54 victory over Stonehill in their first game of the season on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022, at the XL Center in Hartford. UConn Men’s Basketball will return against Boston University on Friday, Nov. 11 at 6:00 p.m. in Gampel Pavilion. Photo by Izzi Barton/The Daily Campus

One of the most surprising performances of the night came from Texas A&M transfer Hassan Diarra. The guard was a solid facilitator for this Husky offense, adding a team-high seven assists on top of 11 points, five rebounds and three steals. Hurley called him “clearly our best guard today.” In the absence of primary ball-handler Andre Jackson, who is missing time with a pinky finger injury, Diarra stepped up. 

“Hassan’s a tough guy to keep off the court when he plays in a cerebral way,” said Hurley postgame. “He’s a guy that changes the energy of your team when he’s in the game because he’s a high energy guy… He’s in the fight with you, his teammates know he’s in the fight with you.” 

2021 All-Big East First Teamer Sanogo played exactly as expected, thriving down low against a weaker Stonehill post defense. He finished his night with 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting, adding six rebounds and an assist in a dominant 19-minute performance.  

“I think I played alright,” remarked Sanogo. “I was trying to do what Coach told me to do, to post up off the block.” 

Up next for the Huskies is a home battle against Boston University on Friday night in Gampel Pavilion. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. 

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