In 2023’s second XL Center matchup of the season for the UConn men’s basketball team, the program once again got the job done with a commanding 87-53 win over Mississippi Valley State.
While the end result will please Husky fans, the journey to get there was less than ideal for Dan Hurley and company. The UConn men started out flat, accumulating two turnovers and failing to capitalize on the offensive end with a 1-4 showing from downtown in the first five minutes. The drama was far from over for this Connecticut squad. Immediately after the first commercial break, fans witnessed a scrappy loose ball that ended up going MVSU’s way. Shortly after, Delta Devils guard Danny Washington and Huskies guard Tristen Newton got into a brief altercation that resulted in a double technical foul.
UConn’s defense did not start off on the right foot, as Alex Karaban and Newton both got into foul trouble early on in the first quarter. The program’s initial struggles in the paint kept MVSU in the game for the early part of the first half as they nearly matched the Delta Devils rebound total.
Connecticut failed to capitalize on many of their offensive opportunities as Newton struggled early on with four turnovers. Solomon Ball struggled to find his mark after replacing the injured Stephon Castle in the starting lineup, shooting 2-8 in the first half. As a team, the Huskies turned the rock over nine times in the first 20 minutes.
Despite the Huskies coming in as nearly 40-point favorites, Rayquan Brown’s shooting kept the Delta Devils competitive. The veteran guard played the entire half, accumulating 14 points on 7-14 shooting. With nearly 11 minutes left in the first half, the Huskies only had a four-point advantage.
In spite of Connectitut’s early struggles, it was Cam Spencer who put the game out of MVSU’s reach. The Maryland native was on fire in the first half, finishing with 19 points on 7-9 shooting, including 5-7 from beyond the arc. Factoring out Spencer’s shooting, the Huskies shot 1-9 from downtown as a team. After 20 minutes of action, Connecticut boasted a 17-point lead.
Other than Spencer, Karaban had himself a solid night, scoring 14 on 4-6 shooting. Despite his success, the Massachusetts native found himself in foul trouble throughout the night with three first-half fouls and another early on in the second half. His production was limited for Hurley and company, as he spent most of the time avoiding his fifth foul.
The Huskies had themselves a better second half, improving in all areas of scoring, especially Newton. The Texas native had an improved second half, scoring 10 on 2-4 shooting and 5-5 from the charity stripe.
Donovan Clingan performed well, scoring 17 points on 7-8 shooting, 3 blocks and 5 rebounds. Despite his solid performance, the 7-foot-2-inch big man still held himself accountable for what he saw as a disappointing outing.
“I feel like we did not come out in the first half with the energy and play the way that UConn plays,” Clingan said. “I wasn’t protecting the rim. Samson wasn’t protecting the rim. We just were letting them score with ease, and we weren’t really guarding the ball well.”
While Connecticut put together a better second half, coach Hurley had much to say about his team’s performance postgame.
“I thought we looked soft. We just had terrible discipline in terms of the fouls,” Hurley said. “[We] just couldn’t guard the ball. Just a frustrating night of basketball.”
With their win on Tuesday night, the UConn men improved to 3-0 for the season. Despite winning by 35 points, this was not Connecticut’s best performance and they’ve expressed that they’re looking for more. The Huskies will need to improve quickly, as they will make the trip out to the “World’s Most Famous Arena” on Sunday, Nov. 19 for the Empire Classic.