When $2 beers meet a sold-out Gampel Pavilion crowd, you know things are about to get a little bit chaotic.
The word chaotic may even be a bit underwhelming when describing the energy in Storrs. Nonetheless, it was a perfect basketball environment for fans and players alike. The energy was in the air for an enthralling showcase of basketball as the Friars came to town. It was the talk around campus with a white out themed crowd and a towel giveaway. The players of course knew how big of a game this was all the way back when the Big East conference schedule was announced. Even Andre Jackson was sporting some cornrows on the court as he started for the Huskies. The electric environment was so intense that the final outcome gave a historic sentence from coach Ed Cooley.
“They should give all those kids in the arena free beer,” said the Providence head coach.
Aside from the discounted alcohol, it was also senior night with Tristen Newton, Naheim Alleyne, Joey Calcaterra, Richie Springs and student manager Nick DeMarco all being honored in front of a large crowd.
That all happened before any basketball even took place at 6:30 p.m. But, when tipoff finally occurred, it was on and in a big way. Both teams were neck and neck throughout the entire first half. No one was willing to give and when you’re coming to watch anything involving two ranked programs, especially no. 18 UConn and no. 20 Providence, that’s exactly the level of competitive basketball you expect to see in the Big East.
Perhaps nobody looked more impressive on the offensive end than Jared Bynum, who looked unstoppable with 12 points on four 3-pointers. It made even more of an impact when considering the Friars top scorer, Bryce Hopkins, wasn’t able to get anything going on offense after scoring seven in the first 10 minutes of action.
But the Huskies weren’t going to let anyone take this game in front of them. The stakes were simply too high as both teams inched closer to the Big East tournament. The Friars took game one in Providence and now it was UConn’s chance to answer back with their fans behind them.
Despite it being close, the Huskies still entered the half with the lead as multiple contributors showed up on both sides of the basketball. But, perhaps nobody had a better all-around impact for UConn in the first half than the same point guard who was honored for his season accomplishments that night. Newton has had plenty of impressive showings this season, but his first half of Wednesday’s game adds to that legacy as he totaled seven points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals. His fellow senior, Alleyne, also added two 3-point shots for six points. Both upperclassmen embraced their night of celebration.
But, even with a narrow lead in the first half, the Huskies had to play winning basketball in the second half and that’s exactly what they did. It was dominant basketball.
After putting up nine points in the first half on 4-8 shooting, Jordan Hawkins caught fire in a big way with 11 second-half points. Sanogo, Newton and Alex Karaban all joined Hawkins in the scoring column as the Huskies continued to drop bucket after bucket. Karaban in particular took his assignment very seriously against one of the top players in the Big East. The UConn freshman’s 16 points on an efficient 7-12 night from the field would be an impressive night in a collection of terrific basketball in just year one.
“To play him even in a big game is a huge plus. Alex took some things personally from the first game that were commented on in terms of that matchup,” said Hurley.
For the Friars, they cooled down despite keeping the game within single digits for a large portion of the second half. While Bynum was big for the Friars in the first half, he only added two points in the scoring column, while Hopkins played inefficient basketball against some good defense from Karaban. He’d finish with 16 points on 40% shooting from the field.
With a lead in their possession, UConn never looked back and a dominant win in front of their sold-out crowd was the result. The 87-69 blowout win vs. the Friars was certainly a different outcome than the last time these teams played in 2013, a close 63-59 win in overtime. But, it was everything that UConn wanted and more.
But, as Cooley said when describing his team’s upcoming games in the Big East in preparation for the conference tournament, it too symbolizes what the next matchup will be between these two teams.