Early on in the night, star forward Adama Sanogo, in an effort to get his team going, set a perfect screen and rolled off his defender to catch a lead pass. Facing another opponent underneath the basket, he attempted a reverse layup. Sanogo was denied, not by Buffalo but by the rim. He dove to get the ball back, kicked it out to teammate Tristen Newton, who found Nahiem Alleyne for the open three-point attempt. Another miss. It wasn’t the start the Huskies wanted.
Heading into Tuesday’s contest, the UConn men’s basketball team hadn’t lost to the Buffalo Bulls since Dec.27, 1951. That almost-71 year streak was in danger of being broken early on until Newton erupted for a triple-double performance, finishing with 22 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists en route to an 84-64 victory. Newton becomes the first player since Daniel Hamilton in 2015 to hit that mark.
With Big East Preseason Player of the Year Sanogo off to a slower start than usual, the lack of veteran presence from injured guys like Jordan Hawkins and Andre Jackson was certainly felt. Early on, the team was searching for that elusive bucket and just couldn’t find it. At the under-12 media timeout, the team missed their last seven and were 4-for-18 on the night.
While the Huskies wouldn’t snap their scoring drought until three minutes later, it was the East Carolina product dishing out the pass to Alleyne for a jumper. Newton got going from the line soon after, nailing seven of his eight in the first half from the charity stripe. He was energized, dynamic and balanced, adding five rebounds, seven assists and four steals alongside 15 first-half points. Newton attacked the rim all night long, finishing 4-for-11 from the floor but 14-for-17 from the free throw line.
“It’s a huge confidence lift,” remarked UConn head coach Dan Hurley. “I think he needed it, I think we needed it for him. Obviously, he was one of the top transfer guards based on what he’s produced. I think that bodes well for what we’re trying to do this year when you see him perform at that level.”
The transfer gave fans a taste of what his play was like at ECU, and why Hurley was so eager to grab him from the portal this offseason. When nobody else was stepping up, Newton took charge, setting the tone for Connecticut the rest of the game.
His highlight reel play came towards the end of the half, when the guard pickpocketed Buffalo’s Devin Ceaser, driving to the dish for a dunk in traffic to the applause of the XL Center crowd.
Also impressing was graduate transfer Joey Calcaterra, who saw over 30 minutes of action, shooting 6-for-9 for 15 points. He and Newton worked well together, as Newton assisted his back-to-back three-pointers at the end of the first half.
“I just knew coming off the bench, I would need to provide a spark for the team, and that’s really what I’m focused on,” said Calcaterra postgame. “It feels good to be able to do that for us tonight, and I’m looking to continue to be aggressive.”
Freshman Donovan Clingan was a force yet again, as the Bristol Central product went a perfect 5-for-5 from the floor with eight rebounds and two blocks. The 7-foot-2 giant took advantage of his height as always, flushing a few dunks while being an intimidator inside on defense. Amongst all of the talent on display, he turned more than a few heads.
“Clingan, I thought, was outstanding tonight,” said Buffalo head coach Jim Whitesell postgame. “His size, he’s got great hands… he’s gonna be a kid that’s going to continue being a heck of a player, I was really ultra-impressed with him. Adama, he’s an outstanding player, we all knew that going in, but Clingan I thought got valuable minutes.”
Fellow freshman Alex Karaban flashed his abilities as well, as the starting forward added three blocks of his own and was truly aggressive at the rim, taking initiative to get a few acrobatic layups. With two solid performances from the team’s two first-years, UConn has plenty to be excited about later this season as the pair develops.
It wasn’t the junior Sanogo’s night, as the star forward finished with just 11 points on 4-for-11 shooting. Even when the Huskies were at their best, it looked like Sanogo was still off. His biggest blunder came late in the game when he couldn’t decide between a dunk or a layup on a fast break, watching the ball slip into the crowd in the process.
With the Malian forward struggling, the rest of the team stepped up, with five guys mentioned by Hurley as having solid performances: Newton, Clingan, Karaban, Calcaterra, and guard Nahiem Alleyne.
“It’s a deep team,” Hurley said. “Obviously Adama didn’t have a typical game, you’re missing two of your best players, you’re missing Samson… usually that’s a recipe for losing, but with that we showed up.”
With early games like these, upsets are certainly on the table not just in Storrs but across Division I basketball. It can be easy for teams to slip up, but Hurley is impressed with his team’s ability to take care of business thus far.
“I mean, to be able to get out of here by 20, to be able to beat a good BU team, a Buffalo team that obviously had a lot of athletic players, and with everything that happens in college basketball in these types of games… I’m honestly thrilled with how easily we’ve been able to get out of these games considering all things.”
With the win, the Huskies improve to 3-0 amidst their five-game home stretch. They pick things up again this Friday night in a late clash with UNC-Wilmington at Gampel Pavilion. The game will be broadcast live on FS2 at 8:30 p.m.