James Bouknight returned to UConn and the Huskies delivered a full performance in a convincing victory over Providence, 73-61, at the Gampel Hall on Tuesday night. The victory came a week after UConn (10-5, 7-5 Big East) gave up his first game against PC in a disappointing way.
Bouknight stepped into the game off the bench and made an immediate impact, lobbing a pass in his first seconds on the pitch, then securing a return dunk that would have roared a full Gampel flag. He finished with a team-high 18 points and four rebounds in 24 minutes.
Tyrese Martin also scored 18 points and had seven rebounds, while RJ Cole improved his playing ability with 13 points and five assists. After a 24-point performance against Xavier last time around, Cole has shown more of the same, just in smaller doses.
Martin is pretty much the quietest killer in the Big East. His 16 points in the first half were the boost behind Bouknight UConn needed to keep his lead intact. He also caught six boards and finished with a plus-minus of +17.
He’s only scratching the surface, the guys were lucky enough to be a hell of a player, head coach Dan Hurley said after the game.
The three older ones also helped a bit. After not playing against Xavier, center Josh Carlton returned to form with a seven-point, seven-rebound performance seemingly out of nowhere. Tyler Polley played more active defense than he normally does and shot 3-8 from the field en route to reach nine points and a steal. He mixed that up a bit more offensively too, rather than staying on the perimeter.
Really proud, in particular, of [Carlton] today, said Hurley. I thought it told the story of the game.
Freshmen Adama Sanogo and Andre Jackson didn’t have as much of an impact on the stat sheet, although Hurley praised Jacksons’ energy.
The first half was perhaps the most complete half of basketball for this team all season, on top of the second half of Marquette’s game. Bouknight and Martin stole the show in the first 20 minutes by combining for 28 of UConns 37 points in the first half. Half floated a bit later due to a few faulty calls, but UConn put up a solid performance nonetheless.
The second half saw UConn keep a solid buffer, then build on it late to finish in the lead by 11. Carltons’ low-post efforts were enormous for UConn, especially in the stretch. The bench volume was at its peak after his contact dunk to secure one and one.
A lot went well for UConn on Tuesday night. Bouknight returned, Martin continued his hotspot streak, Cole maintained his momentum and when they needed someone to turn to the most unlikely of heroes he appeared to Carlton. They completed their layups and played good enough defense to win. Now they have three days to prepare for the best opponent they will likely play all season. Villanova.
As for NCAA UConns tournament hopes, the Huskies’ loss to Providence knocked them out of many tipster bubbles. The victory over Xavier may have pushed them back into the discussion and this victory over Providence could be enough to return in the Final Four. With six games to go in the season, everyone will count, but at least this Husky team is as close to full strength as it has been all season.
UConn faces Villanova on Saturday, February 20 at 1 p.m. in a match that will be televised on FOX.
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