With conference realignments, a rare on-campus matchup and a COVID-19 cancellation, it had been roughly 10 years since the last time UConn faced Providence College in what is now known as the Amica Mutual Pavilion.
The Friars certainly gave them a warm welcome back, turning up the heat in the second half to cruise to a 73-61 win over the No. 4 Huskies on Wednesday night.
“Obviously disappointed, just really embarrassed by the way we handled ourselves in the second half,” said Connecticut coach Dan Hurley postgame. “It’s hard to win on the road against a really great team with just three guys playing well.”
In the first half, UConn struggled from deep, shooting 1-for-7 from beyond the arc. Even higher volume shooters like Jordan Hawkins and Joey Calcaterra combined for 0-for-5 from deep in the half. Connecticut didn’t get to the line often either, and when they did, they shot 50 percent. For the home team, the ball was sinking much easier – the Friars shot 5-for-9 from 3-point range and 8-for-10 from the stripe, making the Huskies pay for their 10 committed fouls.
Despite some shooting struggles, UConn was in the driver’s seat for the majority of the half, jumping out to a lead, losing it, and regaining it again. The rare combo of Adama Sanogo and Donovan Clingan on the court together worked well, as the frontcourt pair combined for 7-for-8 shooting during the half with nine rebounds and two blocks.
After a tight back-and-forth battle, UConn headed into the break down three thanks to back-to-back 3-pointers from Noah Locke and former Husky Corey Floyd Jr. with less than 90 seconds to go.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, their woes continued into the second half and they never regained the lead. An early Alex Karaban triple suggested things were picking up, but the team still finished 4-for-15 from deep in the second half. Even more fouls were committed than in the first, with UConn hitting their mark of 10 in the first half with 9:35 to play in the contest. Providence made Connecticut pay at the line, hitting 21 of their 25 attempts in the half.
One of the biggest differences in the second was the absence of Sanogo, who didn’t score in the last 20 minutes. As the Friars’ lead grew larger and larger and the crowd at Amica Mutual Pavilion, the offense’s biggest weapon couldn’t seem to get it going.
The backcourt had their fair share of issues too, as guards Tristen Newton, Andre Jackson, Hassan Diarra and Calcaterra shot a combined 4-for-27, including 0-for-10 from deep.
Meanwhile, the Bryce Hopkins show was airing all night long, with the forward putting up a game-high 27 points on 6-for-12 shooting and five rebounds. Hopkins drew in 10 total fouls and shot 13-for-15 from the free throw line.
“He’s an NBA [caliber] player,” said Hurley of Hopkins postgame. “He was the best player on the court today and I didn’t think it was very close. There’s not many 6’7” guys that can do what that guy does with the ball… He might’ve been the best individual player we’ve played against this year.”
One bright spot for the Huskies was the play of their freshmen. The reigning Big East Freshman of the Week Karaban picked up right where he left off last week, finishing with 11 points and five rebounds, knocking down three of the team’s five 3-pointers. Clingan excelled in limited minutes, going 4-for-4 with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
“I wanted to get Donovan on the court. Donovan was great today, I think him and Alex were our two best players,” remarked Hurley. “We’ve got to get Donovan more minutes.”
Despite the praise from his coach, Clingan kept his head down, citing a team win as the most important stat.
“I don’t care what my statline is, we lost, so that’s what’s bothering me the most… I wish I could have done more rebounding-wise, making more layups, setting better screens, blocking more shots. I wish I could have that stuff better to help us win,” said Clingan postgame. It didn’t go our way tonight, but we’ll be back.”
With the loss, Connecticut has dropped two straight after an impressive 14-0 start to the season. Despite recent struggles, The Huskies aren’t letting it get to them.
“We’re all still pretty confident. We just have to get back to where we were and bring the same mindset and keep working,” said Clingan. We’ll be alright, we just have to figure out what’s going on.”
They have a short turnaround to figure it out, with a crucial home matchup with a red-hot Creighton team looming on Saturday afternoon at Gampel Pavilion.
“It’s always really good to be back in Gampel, we’ve got a very tough opponent, Creighton is a really good team. You just have to stay sharp, forget about this [loss] quick but take what we did wrong and fix it during practice,” remarked Hawkins.