It’s been a tough five-game stretch for the UConn men’s basketball team, as the No. 15 Huskies previously lost four of their last five, including an embarrassing double-digit defeat at home to St. John’s this past Sunday.
Over a span of very tough losses, this one may take the cake.
After taking a commanding 17-point lead in the first half, Connecticut saw their lead slowly whittled away due to sloppy defense and rushed offensive possessions, leading to a 67-66 Seton Hall win at the Prudential Center. The Pirates held the lead for a total of six seconds of game time.
The Huskies entered the matchup without two key pieces on the sideline, head coach Dan Hurley and associate head coach Kimani Young. Both tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the contest, and did not travel with the team. In their places were assistant coaches Luke Murray and Tom Moore.
The game started out business as usual for the Huskies, as the team fed their top two scorers – big man Adama Sanogo and guard Jordan Hawkins. UConn started the game on a 10-2 run, with the duo accounting for all 10 of their points. Despite the hot beginning, the Pirates gave a little push back, bringing the Husky lead down to just four points with about six minutes of play.
It was at this point where Connecticut seemingly rediscovered their identity. A dominating 15-1 run followed for the Huskies, sharing the ball between scorers Donovan Clingan, Alex Karaban and Tristen Newton over that stretch.
All of a sudden, it looked like the Huskies were having fun on the court again – something we’ve rarely seen from this group in road conference play. By the end of the first half, UConn led Seton Hall 40-26, outrebounded the Pirates by eight and assisted on 12 of their 15 made baskets. That’s the identity they’ve been looking so hard to find.
And there it went.
Seton Hall came out of the break hot, fueled by a packed Prudential Center not giving up on the thought of an upset. Their offense was full of firepower, scoring 14 points in less than four minutes. The Huskies were able to match that pace for the most part over that span thanks to some timely free throws and a couple of goaltending calls favoring Sanogo.
Soon after that, the Huskies lost their steam. One 8-0 run from the Pirates later, and the lead was cut to just three points with 14:19 to go in the contest.
The rest of the contest, UConn played inconsistent basketball. The team surely had their moments – a Donovan Clingan and-1 dunk followed by a Joey Calcaterra three comes to mind – but was never steady enough to break away. It wasn’t until just over a minute left that Seton Hall took the lead for the first time all game, and five seconds later Connecticut regained it with a pair of free throws.
In the last possession of the game, Pirate guard Kadary Richmond found a wide-open Femi Odukale for three, but it fell short. However, a big offensive rebound and bucket from KC Ndefo with one second left gave Seton Hall the lead for good.
It was an abnormally ugly game for the big men, as Sanogo, Karaban and Clingan combined for 3-for-14 shooting in the second half, including a few open baskets at the rim. Sanogo finished as the team’s leading scorer, adding 16 points with five rebounds and five fouls.
Down the stretch, it was Newton who looked like the best Husky on the court, earning a tough basket and going 6-for-6 from the line. Hassan Diarra also had some key moments for UConn, but the offensive-minded guard issues still persist for a team previously heralded for its depth.
After finishing non-conference play undefeated, the Huskies now sit at a record of 4-5 in the Big East. The conference slate ahead of them is no joke, and while they’ve cleared the majority of their toughest Big East tests, they need to take care of business down the next stretch of games and regain some confidence before tournament season. They’ve proved earlier in the year that they can win big games – at this point it’s all about finding their identity and keeping things consistent.
Next up for Connecticut is a Sunday afternoon date with the Butler Bulldogs at the XL Center in Hartford. Tipoff is set for 12 p.m. and the game will be broadcast live on FOX.