Nobody said a quest for a Big East regular season title would be easy.
After what seemed like a momentum-swinging win over Creighton on Saturday, the No. 6 UConn men’s basketball team dropped their third straight road game on Wednesday night, this one at the hands of the No. 25 Marquette Golden Eagles.
It appeared to be a solid enough start for the Huskies. After some back-and-forth play, Connecticut led a dominant 14-0 run with 7:25 left in the first half. The crowd at the Fiserv Forum, while momentarily silenced, picked their energy back up late in the half as the Golden Eagles trailed by just four points heading into the break.
Whatever Huskies head coach Dan Hurley said to his team in the locker room must not have resonated with his team, as Connecticut emerged from the half off their game. After giving up a massive 11-2 Marquette run early, UConn trailed the home squad by two.
After trading buckets for a few minutes, the game was tied at 58-all with just over nine minute to go. Golden Eagle Kam Jones nailed a jumper and Marquette never looked back, holding onto the lead all the way to an 82-76 victory.
“You have to play a full 40 minute game if you want to win on the road,” said Hurley postgame.
The Golden Eagles led a three-headed attack in this contest, relying on Oso Ighodaro, Olivier-Maxence Prosper and Jones for the bulk of their scoring. Ighodaro led Marquette in points with 19 and Prosper wasn’t far behind with 17. Both forwards excelled down low and in transition, making the Huskies pay for some costly turnovers.
Star forward Adama Sanogo couldn’t seem to find his footing, especially early on in the game. In the first half, he had just four points, zero rebounds and four turnovers, including a pair of traveling violations. The big man picked things up in the second, finishing with a still-lackluster 10 points, three rebounds and five turnovers.
In contrast, his substitute Donovan Clingan shined yet again. Recently receiving praise from Hurley for his efforts in a loss to Providence, the freshman came into the contest on limited minutes from the bench and dominated his competition. In 21 minutes, Clingan racked up 20 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks and two steals. The Golden Eagles simply had no counter for the center, who was able to work his way inside and use his massive frame to get his team much-needed points.
“We’re at the point here where Adama wasn’t playing well offensively. He was just having one of those games and Donovan was playing great, so Donovan played,” explained Hurley.
Right alongside Clingan was fellow freshman Alex Karaban. The forward did a little bit of everything for UConn, finishing his night with 17 points, seven rebounds, an assist and a block. While Villanova star Cam Whitmore was the early favorite for Big East Freshman of the Year, both Clingan and Karaban are really finding their own for this Huskies team, which is a great sign of things to come for this program.
While things were solid down low for Connecticut, the team really felt the lack of guard play on Wednesday night. Even consistent sharpshooter Jordan Hawkins had a rough night, shooting 1-for-8 for eight points and six rebounds in the contest. His first and only field goal of the game came in desperation time. Hawkins made a nice 3-pointer and immediately grabbed a steal on the other end, but by that point it was too little too late for the Huskies.
Guards Tristen Newton, Joey Calcaterra and Nahiem Alleyne struggled as well, combining for a paltry 4-for-15 on the night, including 2-for-10 beyond the arc. While the Huskies have been heralded for their immense riches of depth, as of late the guard situation has become concerning.
One bright spot for the team was in the rebounding battle, as UConn grabbed 35 boards to Marquette’s 29. Prior to Wednesday’s contest, the Huskies had been outrebounded in four of their last five games, a massive step back for a Connecticut squad that entered Big East play with the highest rebounding margin out of any team in the conference.
With the win, the Golden Eagles rise to 13-4 and 6-1 in Big East play. With the loss, UConn falls to 15-3 and 4-3 in the conference. Despite the struggles, Hurley, citing Big East toughness, thinks his team is getting valuable experience for the NCAA Tournament.
“The [Big East] games are a lot more physical. We are proving to be better suited for those other types of games that may be played a little bit differently. It makes me feel better about March,” said Hurley.
Thankfully for the Huskies, their schedule should ease up ever-so slightly after dropping arguably their hardest games to win in the Big East: road matchups at Xavier, Providence and Marquette. The team gets back at it on Saturday afternoon, taking on St. John’s at the XL Center. Tip-off is set for 12 p.m. and the game will be broadcast live on FS1.