It was a chilly day outside Gampel Pavilion for another edition of UConn men’s basketball. The fans were lined up and the stage was set. Not only was it another opportunity to get back in the win column, it was also a revenge game.
On Jan. 18, in the same state that UConn coach Dan Hurley calls home, the Huskies dropped a tough outing in a game against the Seton Hall Pirates. Of course, Hurley wasn’t in attendance to help coach the Huskies as the COVID-19 virus prevented him and associate head coach Kimani Young from being on the sidelines. Hurley would have to rely on a staff led by coaches Tom Moore and Luke Murray to put UConn in a winning position. While the team was certainly in that position at the half of a tough road game, that 14 point lead at the half slowly crumbled and resulted in a one point Pirates win.
So, it was fitting that with Hurley back on the sidelines and fans in attendance, the Huskies were going to come to play. In fact, there were more than just fans in the audience. Notable former Huskies like James Bouknight, R.J. Cole and Tyrese Martin all took their seats at Gampel Pavilion for a classic Big East showdown.
The first half of Saturday’s afternoon certainly showed some of the best of UConn men’s basketball. Notably, it felt like someone inserted an old copy of NBA Jam into a retro console. There were plenty of highlights and slam dunks to see in the first half. You can thank Jordan Hawkins for some of those, highlighted by a drive from the corner and a ridiculous one-handed dunk with big man K.C. Ndefo contesting nearby. It felt like basketball art and while Hawkins was shooting just 30% in the first half, UConn still led 33-27 as UConn’s big man duo of Donovan Clingan and Adama Sanogo combined for 12 points on 6-8 shooting.
But, highlights aside, Seton Hall was aggressively fighting back, a tribute to the tough playstyle of Seton Hall coach Shaheen Holloway. Despite the absence of Kadary Richmond, a player who’s notably given the Huskies some trouble in the past, and some small injury trouble from K.C. Ndefo, Holloway’s team climbed back to only a two point deficit with 14:36 to go. But, The Huskies knew better than to doubt a team that had stunned them once before. They had to play big time basketball on both sides of the court and that’s exactly what they did.
With Andre Jackson leading the charge, UConn pushed its lead up to 11 and made the Pirates work hard for their shots on the court. With under seven minutes to go in the game, the Pirates were shooting just 27.8% from the field and on the other end of the court, the Huskies continued to play their brand of basketball. They played aggressively and got to the line for easy points against a Pirates interior defense that was giving up easy looks at the rim. If you add in an impressive Hawkins pull up in your face three pointer, that’s a recipe for a loud Gampel Pavilion, an energy that could be felt throughout Storrs.
Yet, despite a double-digit lead from the Huskies, they weren’t done just yet and an 8-0 Pirates run cut the Huskies lead to six with under a minute. Still, UConn played patient basketball and most importantly hit its free throws. In the end, UConn would enact its revenge and use a strong half to propel itself to victory, 64-55.
“Today we showed our grit,” said guard Hassan Diarra. “Seton Hall’s a tough team.”
It would also end with a career-high in scoring for Jackson, 15 points on 5-10 shooting from the field. It came at a time for Jackson where he wasn’t playing the best basketball of his career and needed a big game. With his teammates and coaches behind him, he put on a show in front of over 10,000 fans.
“It was a lot of fun. I think we played with a lot of joy today,” said Jackson.