Men’s Basketball: Huskies rise, fall in tough loss to Xavier at Gampel

1-25-2023 MBB Vs. Xavier by Izzi Barton UConn Men’s Basketball struggles to control the ball as they fall to Xavier 72-89 on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023 in Gampel Pavilion. The Huskies will play their next game against DePaul on Tuesday, Jan. 31.

Prior to the UConn men’s basketball team’s clash with the Xavier Musketeers on Wednesday night, it had been 1,169 days since the Huskies lost at Gampel Pavilion with fans in attendance – the now infamous buy-game loss to St. Joseph’s in 2019. Despite bringing the contest back from 17 and 11-point deficits, Connecticut fell to Xavier in an 82-79 nailbiter. 

“Just a really, really tough loss for us to absorb,” said UConn head coach Dan Hurley postgame. 

To start the game, the Musketeers made their defensive plan perfectly clear: leave Andre Jackson open. The guard entered Wednesday night with 6.0 points per game on a 37.6 shooting percentage, worst on the team out of players with over 100 shot attempts. Jackson took seven of the team’s first nine shots, missing all seven from a variety of spots on the court. With each one, it looked like the game was getting more and more in his head. 

The feeling was contagious. Poor shot selection from the Huskies was rampant all half, and the team finished a meager 1-for-13 from beyond the arc, the only deep ball coming from guard Nahiem Alleyne. Xavier, on the other hand, had no problem working in a hostile environment. The Musketeers shot a clean 50 percent from the field before the break, including 5-for-11 from deep. Midway through the game, UConn needed to switch up their defensive gameplan, moving from a man-to-man defense to a zone. 

“Defensively, we were just so soft. It’s rare for me to get out of a [man-to-man] defense entirely just because we couldn’t guard their guards,” explained Hurley. 

Credit to the Gampel Pavilion crowd – they were as loud as they could be, rising to their feet after many momentum-switching buckets. Similar to the Huskies’ contest against St. John’s, it was hard for UConn Nation to stay loud, as Xavier continued to nail their shots at a high clip, silencing the crowd in the process. Souley Boum was a key part of that, as the guard and Big East Player of the Year candidate went 5-for-7 from 3-point range throughout the night.  

Connecticut started showing real signs of life a few minutes into the second half thanks to some key free throw shooting and 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions from Jordan Hawkins and Adama Sanogo. Even with the under-16 media timeout, the Huskies remained focused, forcing a turnover and setting up Alex Karaban for an open 3-point make. With some fuel for their fire, the Connecticut faithful picked up their intensity even more as UConn chipped away at their deficit. By the time there was 11 minutes left, the Xavier lead was reduced to just one point. 

Even with Gampel louder than it’s been all year long, the Musketeers refused to go away. One 10-0 run later, and the Huskies found themselves down 11 once again. Over that stretch, UConn went 0-for-3 from the free throw line, allowing Xavier to gain even more momentum. 

At this point, enduring another double-digit deficit, the Huskies surged back, getting to within a point with under five minutes to play in the contest. UConn was rolling once more, and after some strong back-and-forth offense from both teams, the Huskies found themselves with the ball and down just three points with nine seconds to play.  

After some miscommunication at the top of the key coupled with some signature Xavier defense, Connecticut drew a foul with two seconds to go. Tristen Newton drained both of his free throws, cutting the deficit to one but putting the game out of reach for the Huskies. Newton got one more half-court heave off after a couple of foul shots, but the Musketeers were able to walk away with a big three-point road win. Despite the game having a dramatic second half, the Huskies never held a lead the entire game. 

“For us to come in and withstand the run of UConn in the second half and the crowd, I think it speaks to the good team that we have. Today I look at this as our best overall win of the year [because of the tough road environment],” said Xavier head coach Sean Miller postgame. “There’s no telling what would have happened if they took the lead, the roof may have blown off.” 

Down the stretch, it was the Jordan Hawkins show. The guard finished as the game’s leading scorer, ending his night with 28 points, four rebounds and an assist, shooting 8-for-16 from the field and a perfect 7-for-7 from the line. 

“In the second half, we just discussed as a team we needed to pick it up. Everybody picked it up, everyone played a part… I’m proud of the team’s efforts, we’ll just try to get back on Tuesday,” said Hawkins. 

While Hawkins became the big story, fellow guard Newton had a big game of his own. He finished with 23 points on 6-for-12 shooting, four rebounds and four assists. After non-Hawkins guard play had been lacking during a good chunk of Big East play, it looks like Newton has found his footing on this team. 

Following the loss, the Huskies fall to 16-6 on the year and 5-6 in conference play. They get the weekend off, taking on DePaul on Tuesday night in Chicago. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. and the game will be broadcast live on FS1. 

“This group has got to put this game behind us. This little break comes at a pretty good time for us to regroup,” said Hurley. 

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