If there were questions about how far James Bouknight could carry the Huskies, or about whether the UConn men could compete with the best of the Big East, there were some answers Sunday.
This is Bouknight’s team, through and through, and it can play defense.
But what about the rest of the Huskies? Therein are the question marks coming out of the program’s long-awaited debut in the Big East.
Bouknight scored 40 points, a career high, but didn’t get quite enough help. Creighton, ranked ninth, scored on its last possession to tie the game, and edged past the cold-shooting Huskies in overtime to win, 76-74, at Gampel Pavilion.
UConn has 10 days before its next scheduled game, and this one will likely not sit well over the holiday.
The game was all Bouknight, who scored 34 of UConn’s first 58 points, but R.J. Cole finally found the touch, hitting two from the line and then a 3-pointer to put the Huskies ahead 63-59. It would be up to UConn’s defense, which was holding Creighton well below its 83.4-point average coming in, to hold on the last 3:34.
But when Cole missed two free throws with 11.2 seconds left, Creighton had one more chance, and off an in-bounds pass Damien Jefferson created enough space to hit one off the glass and send the game to overtime at 66-66.
There, UConn went 2-for-9 from the floor and the game slipped away. Bouknight went 13-for-24 from the floor, his teammates went 11-for-43. That’s it. That’s the stat. Creighton had five in double figures, led by Christian Bishop with 19, and out-rebounded UConn 48-41.
Cole, 2-for-13, scored 12. Tyrese Martin, 1-for-6, had 10 rebounds for UConn (3-1, 0-1 in the Big East).
Creighton (6-2, 2-1) was a smooth-running offensive machine much of the first half, and jumped out to a 12-point lead, but Bouknight took on the Huskies’ scoring almost by himself. Maybe we should scratch the almost.
He scored UConn’s last six points of the half as the Huskies pulled within four at the break, and dominated the early going of the second as UConn pulled ahead. Over the last 14 minutes, it was a question of whether Bouknight could continue to outscore the Bluejays, or whether one or more of his teammates could start making shots.
Out of a timeout, Bouknight scored five more points to bring the Huskies back from four points down into the lead once again, with just under 5 minutes to play.
UConn started out with a little spurt. Isaiah Whaley hit a jumper, then Bouknight hit a three, got a steal and completed a spectacular 3-point play for an 8-3 lead. But then Bouknight, and his teammates, went ice cold on offense and Creighton dominated much of the half.
The Huskies were disrupting point guard Marcus Zegarowski, but Creighton’s other players hit four from 3-point range early, Denzel Mahoney and Damien Jefferson had the shooting touch, to draw UConn’s defense to the perimeter. Then the Bluejays made effective cuts for easy baskets during a 24-7 run, and jumped out to a 12-point lead.
Creighton was still 12 ahead when Tyrese Martin, sitting since the opening minutes with two fouls, checked back in with 5:54 left in the half. The Huskies began rebounding better, playing better defense and closing the gap, making five of their last seven shots of the half as Creighton went 1-for-9.
Bouknight regained control, making a pull-up jumper to start the run, and later scoring six points in a row to bring UConn within two points, 31-29. He finished the half with 16 points, drawing six Creighton fouls.
Whaley and Bouknight scored to open the second half, tying the game, and Bouknight kept pouring it on. Two free throws gave Bouknight 29 points and the Huskies a four-point lead with 14:36 left in the game.
Dom Amore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org