No. 25 UConn looks to hang tough against St. John's
There is a toughness about No. 25 Connecticut, and it was evident in its first game as a ranked team under coach Dan Hurley.
Playing its second game without leading scorer James Bouknight (elbow), the Huskies struggled to make shots or claim rebounds on Jan. 11 at Big East rival DePaul. They hit just 40.4 percent from the field, missed 11 of their 24 foul shots and were outboarded 39-29.
But they found a way to win at the end, holding the Blue Demons scoreless for the last 4:27 and forcing 24 turnovers in a 60-53 decision. UConn aims for its fifth straight win on Monday when it hosts St. John's in another Big East contest in Storrs.
With Bouknight on the shelf for what Hurley termed an indefinite period after undergoing surgery on Tuesday, the Huskies (7-1, 4-1 Big East) will need more performances like the one Rhode Island transfer Tyrese Martin gave them at DePaul.
Martin led all scorers with 18 points and added five steals, upping his scoring average to 10.6 points this season. RJ Cole contributed 12 points, four assists and four steals, drilling a key corner 3-pointer that started a game-ending 13-2 run.
"Tyrese was huge, he got past some struggles at the free-throw line and made some timely baskets," Hurley said. "I thought RJ hitting that huge corner 3 really gave us a lift."
Without Bouknight's 20.3 points per game, second-best in the Big East, UConn will lean more on a defense that has held opponents to 40.7 percent shooting from the field and 28.7 percent on 3-point attempts. Martin, Tyler Polley (10.4 points per game) and Cole (9.6) are likely to carry a bigger share of the offensive load in Bouknight's absence.
The Huskies were scheduled to host No. 3 Villanova Friday night, but the game was postponed due to the Wildcats' ongoing problems with COVID-19.
Meanwhile, St. John's (7-7, 2-6) has to make a quick turnaround after a bitter, 73-71 loss Saturday at home to Marquette. The Red Storm missed two shots on their final possession. Vince Cole's layup to tie the game was blocked and Julian Champagnie's 3-pointer for the win rimmed in and out at the horn.
"That's what happens when we let games go down to the very last second and we don't get shots we want to take and have to force some shots," Champagnie said.
Champagnie couldn't be blamed for the loss, though. He drained 5 of 11 3s on the day and pumped in 20 points, nearly matching his average (20.7) on the season. Greg Williams, Jr. (11.6) and Cole (9.9) are St. John's second- and third-leading scorers.
The Red Storm average 79 points per game with their fast-paced style, but are yielding 78.5 points per game and allowing opponents to can 48 percent of their field-goal tries. Their defense forces 17.7 turnovers per game.
This will be the first time the teams have played since Feb. 6, 2013, when St. John's bagged a 71-65 win in the last year of UConn's first term in the Big East. The Red Storm lead the all-time series 35-28.
--Field Level Media
Updated January 16, 2021