UConn men remain unbeaten, but Dan Hurley not satisfied: ‘Happy that’s over with’

Photo of David Borges

HARTFORD — Tyrese Martin isn’t really a beach person.

“I’d rather go in the pool than the beach, with the wet sand and all that ,” he confessed.

After posting a double-double in No. 23 UConn’s 87-63 route of Binghamton Saturday at XL Center, the UConn senior wing can now turn his attention towards the pools of the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas. The Huskies will play three games in three days in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, beginning Wednesday against No. 21 Auburn.

“We’re looking forward to the Bahamas,” Martin said.

Perhaps too many of his teammates were already doing that entering Saturday’s game. Martin’s 15 points and 11 rebounds led the way in a well-balanced effort. But the defense was lacking at times, the shooting stagnant at others, and the overall energy could have been much better.

“I feel like a lot of players had the Bahamas in the back of their heads, looking forward to that trip,” Martin noted. “It showed in most of the guys’ performances tonight.”

Head coach Dan Hurley wholeheartedly concurred.

“Happy that’s over with,” he said of the win. “Incredibly painful game to watch if you’re a UConn fan or coach. Just a really flat, really poor performance at both ends of the court.”

Harsh words, no doubt. But Hurley clearly didn’t like his team’s complacency heading into what might be its toughest stretch of three games this season. With Auburn and its bruising front line next on the docket, Hurley bemoaned his team’s lack of transition game, inability to create more turnovers (11), poor defensive positioning and relatively lackadaisical effort on the boards.

“Defensive rebounds were an absolute adventure,” the coach noted, “and if they were an adventure today, what are they gonna be like on Wednesday?”

One thing that has stood out with the Huskies this season, including on Saturday, has been its ball movement and flow on offense. In fact, that’s what Martin and sophomore Andre Jackson felt has been the team’s strength so far.

“We are way more mature than last year, and we’re more of an unselfish team than last year,” Martin noted. “I feel like we pass up good shots to take great shots a lot of times. People are driving, spraying it. And, we shoot the ball a little better.”

“I like the overall camaraderie of the team,” Jackson added. “We have a very unselfish team, and we go out and play hard. I think today, we didn’t do that to the level we should have, but we got the job done.”

UConn may not have a player as talented as James Bouknight. But are the Huskies a better team this season without the 2021 NBA lottery pick? They’re certainly more balanced.

Martin led the way with his double-double, along with four assists and three steals. Adama Sanogo scored 12, freshman Jordan Hawkins 11 and Tyler Polley 10. Jackson had nine points and eight boards and Jalen Gaffney and Akok Akok netted eight points apiece off the bench. Isaiah Whaley scored six points and ripped down 10 boards.

Whaley, Sanogo and Jackson each blocked a pair of shots. OK, point guard R.J. Cole had a quiet day, but otherwise, the “Husky 9” really produced. The offense continued to flow for the Huskies, more so than it did at times with Bouknight, who could be a one-man show.

Certainly, this one didn’t come quite as easily as their first three contests for the 4-0 Huskies, who misfired on 12 of their first 13 shots before heating up a bit and taking a 15-point lead into halftime.

Binghamton (1-3) managed to get within 11 early in the second half, and even caused a bit of drama. With 11:26 left, Bearcat forward Ogheneyole Akuwovo delivered a hard foul to Andre Jackson on a drive to the basket. Sanogo objected, jawing at Akuwovo, and words were exchanged between multiple players.

When the dust had cleared, Akuwovo and Sanogo were both hit with technical fouls.

“That’s a tough call,” Hurley noted. “In Jersey City, if somebody starts running up on you, you’re gonna brace. Where I’m from, somebody runs up on you, you don’t need to punch him, but you’d better be prepared to make some contact first, let’s say. I didn’t understand that. I understand the position the officials were in. They couldn’t go to that context, I guess. The rule of the street is different than (the rule of the law).”

When Akuwovo returned to the game a few minutes later, he was met by a chorus of boos from the XL Center crowd, and continued to hear it throughout the game, every time he touched the ball.

After four games, UConn fans had finally found a villain. But those villains are about to get a lot bigger, meaner and better in the Bahamas ... and beyond.

“We’re ready for the big ones right now,” Hurley noted. “You play four games like this and it’s bound to happen, it’s human nature to take your foot off the gas and put it on the brake. But, we’re going to play 25 of our next 27 games against high-major teams. I think this looks like a team that’s ready to do that and attack that.”


  Per usual, Bristol Central 7-footer and recent UConn signee Donovan Clingan was sitting behind the Huskies’ bench.

  Orange’s Brett Hutchison, a preferred walk-on for Binghamton, made his first career appearance, entering the game with a little over a minute left. He was quickly fouled and hit one of two free throws.