No. 25 UConn men edge DePaul 60-53 to complete 3-0 Big East road trip
At every timeout and every pause late in Monday's tight Big East battle, UConn came together and laid out a plan to successfully finish off its third straight road game.
"We told each other it's about stops now and and it's about toughness," redshirt junior R.J. Cole said.
Playing for the first time as a ranked team since 2016, the No. 25 Huskies fought off fatigue down the stretch, scoring the game's final eight points to claim a satisfying 60-53 victory against DePaul at Wintrust Arena in Chicago. They've won a season-high four straight.
"We won that just with toughness and the guys showing real grit and heart," coach Dan Hurley said via Zoom. "Thrilled to get the win obviously. Just some important winning plays down the stretch."
The Huskies (7-1, 4-1) dedicated the win to former UConn coach Dee Rowe, who passed away on Sunday at the age of 91. Three members of Hurley's staff — Tom Moore, Kevin Freeman and Taliek Brown — spoke about Rowe during a team meeting.
"Before we went to bed last night, it was as simple as we've got to find a way and it's going to be difficult to win your third game in a row on the road," Hurley said. "Let's dig down. And what great programs do is they find a way to win a game and then they dedicate that and they honor coach Rowe and his family and everything that's he meant to UConn and to basketball."
UConn outlasted DePaul (1-4, 0-4) for the second time this season and 11th straight meeting in the series by playing gritty defense, forcing 24 turnovers including four in the last three and a half minutes. The Huskies overcame some shaky shooting from the foul line (13 for 24) and 3-point range (5-for-18).
For the second straight game, the Huskies played without sophomore James Bouknight, the team's leading scorer. Bouknight is sidelined with a hyperextended left elbow.
"Everybody just had to dig deeper with him out," junior Tyrese Martin said. "Contributions have to come from everybody across the board. Today, we had to gut one out."
Martin and Cole, who scored 18 and 12 points, respectively, carried the Huskies across the finish line.
Trailing 53-52, Martin sparked a game-ending 8-0 run by scoring five points. Martin's free throw with 2:38 left pushed the Huskies in front for good, 54-53.
The Huskies ran an effective inbounds play that led to Martin hitting a layup and then he added another driving basket for a 59-53 edge at the 1:04 mark. Cole's free throw finished off the run.
Earlier, Cole buried a big three with UConn down 51-47.
"Tyrese was huge," Hurley said. "He put behind him some struggles at the free throw line and made some timely and R.J., too. R.J.'s huge three in the corner gave us a lift."
The Huskies missed Bouknight, struggling to run an effective offense. They led by as many as 11 in the first half and held a 33-30 edge at intermission.
Neither team could build a comfortable lead in a sloppy second half.
UConn's trademark toughness and stingy defense made the difference. Senior Tyler Polley chipped in 12 points.
Martin credited the win to UConn's practice habits.
"We practice like maniacs every day," Martin said. "No one in the country practices like us and I whole-heartedly believe that. ... The games are easier than practice."
The Huskies have won their first three road games in a season for the first time since 2008-09.
They're now off until next Monday when they host St. John's. Whether Bouknight will be back by then or not is uncertain.
"We'll know more about the length of how long he'll be out tomorrow," Hurley said. "We have a pretty good idea of where it's heading for him. If he misses time, it won't be a lot of time."
Earlier Monday, the Huskies entered the Associated Press Top 25 poll for the first time since being ranked 18th before the start of the 2016-17 season.
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