Coming off of an incredible debut 95-52 win over Northern Arizona, the UConn men’s basketball team continued their winning ways with a dominant 107-67 dub over the Stonehill Skyhawks at the XL Center in Hartford.
While it’s difficult for some basketball fans to get excited about these non-conference games, the energy was certainly high in Hartford even before the opening tip. The program’s unveiling of another 2023 National Championship banner in their second home arena before their first game in Hartford this season gave Huskies fans plenty to be excited for.
And that excitement only grew as the game went on. From the jump, the Huskies got cooking. The team quickly got off to a 12-0 start in massive thanks to Tristen Newton and Donovan Clingan. Specifically, superstar Clingan took massive advantage of the size difference between the two programs, especially with the Skyhawks leaving the paint susceptible to inside scoring due to their zone defense.
However, nothing could compare to Newton’s dominance on Saturday afternoon. The graduate guard was lethal from beyond the arc, knocking down four triples in the first half and causing absolute mayhem for the Skyhawks’ defense. The Texas native’s offensive surge would see him end the half with 14 points, four rebounds and three assists on an efficient 4-7 from the field.
The rest of the team was also found ways to impact the game on both ends of the court. Fans don’t need to look for a better example than a play ran by junior Samson Johnson. With 12:54 left in the first half, the Skyhawks’ Pano Pavlidis managed to get free in the open court, but Connecticut’s veteran big man was not about to let Stonehill get any easy points on his watch. Johnson sprinted toward the paint and quickly swatted the ball away, but his highlight was not done just yet. As the Huskies got back on offense, Pavlidis was still behind, which let Johnson grab an emphatic two-hand slam with help from Hassan Diarra.
Things continued to work for the Huskies throughout the first half. They dominated on the rebounding end at 25-11. They moved the ball with 13 first-half assists. That combined with numerous defensive stops led to an incredible 52-30 Connecticut lead at the half.
It was certainly more of the same in the second half for the Huskies. Newton continued to dominate, adding eight points, three rebounds and an assist to finish with a loaded statline of 22 points, seven rebounds, four assists and a whopping five steals to cap off an incredible night. But the success of the Huskies’ second half was led by their young core, especially Stephon Castle.
In the first half, the freshman guard was making a great defensive effort on the other end, highlighted by an incredible block off the backboard with 16:23 to go in the first half. However, his offensive game shined in the second half. The Georgia native scored 13 points in the second half. According to coach Dan Hurley, he loved how Castle was able to get to the free throw stripe and convert.
“I think probably the best thing is he went 7-7 from the free throw line,” said Hurley.
At the end of the day, these games are meant to encourage the Huskies roster to withstand the challenges that lie ahead, including tough opponents like Kansas and Gonzaga and a loaded Big East schedule. While Hurley admits that there’s still plenty to work on with this roster, some important steps were taken toward developing the roster into its full potential.
“These games are necessary. These games are important. We need to be able to play these young guys, these freshmen. Get them minutes. Let them build some confidence before we play these monster games,” said Hurley.
As for getting the young players minutes, Hurley certainly achieved that task. Aside from Castle, Jaylin Stewart, Jayden Ross and Solomon Ball all secured double-figure minutes in Saturday’s victory. All three players gave the crowd plenty to cheer for, especially Stewart, who threw down an emphatic two-hand alley-oop courtesy of a nice pass from Ross. One last layup from the Seattle native with under 40 seconds left in the game wrapped up the final minutes of an electric XL Center blowout.
It’s certainly not the first or last of these types of matchups throughout UConn’s season. The program will certainly be looking to correct their mistakes ahead of Tuesday’s matchup against Mississippi Valley State in Hartford at 7 p.m. The Delta Devils may be the worst team in college basketball, according to KenPom, but with the Empire Classic on Nov. 19, the Huskies will certainly value some extra time on the court.