Hurley ejected as Huskies get blown out in 2K Classic title game
NEW YORK – As each minute of the 2K Empire Classic championship game at Madison Square Garden ticked away, UConn coach Dan Hurley’s frustration-level continued to grow.
First off, his team struggled mightily, getting trounced by Iowa, 91-72. On top of that, the officiating was suspect and Hurley, along with his team, felt they got the short end of the whistle throughout the game. The combination of those factors led to his first technical foul with 10 minutes remaining.
Then, with 1:44 left, according to Hurley, he was talking privately with Jalen Adams and Bo Boroski, the official, overheard their conversation and gave Hurley his second technical, resulting in an ejection.
Sadly, for the UConn fans in the building, Hurley’s exit was the highlight of their night. As Hurley left the court, the crowd chanted his name in unison, much like the roll call you hear at Yankee Stadium. When the referees left after the final buzzer, they were greeted with, let’s just say, some harsh language from those same people.
“I was just talking to Jalen,” Hurley said. “Jalen had come over to me and voiced his displeasure about what was going on. I just said to him, ‘Don’t worry about it, I’ll talk about it in the press conference.’
“It was what it was. Bo obviously overheard a conversation I was having with a player on my team and felt that was the appropriate decision.”
While there were some questionable calls, the refs, simply, did not cost UConn this game. The Huskies turned it over 15 times, missed five free throws (including an air ball), committed an abundance of fouls (24), and trailed by as many as 25 points.
Twenty-four hours after catching the eye of the college basketball world by beating No. 15 Syracuse, UConn was unable to regain its momentum, especially offensively, from a day earlier.
Big picture, this is not a loss that will hurt the Huskies (3-1). Iowa, off an impressive victory over No. 13 Oregon (and fascinating NBA prospect Bol Bol – check him out), is headed to the Top 25. The Hawkeyes, unlike Syracuse, were able to find an answer for every UConn run and played from ahead for the final 36 minutes. Luka Garza, the Tournament MVP, was unstoppable in the first half with 18 points and finished with 22. Tyler Cook scored 26 points, including four highlight reel dunks in the second half that fired up the small contingent of Iowa fans on hand.
Hurley offered a dose of reality in the postgame press conference. A reality that, while UConn is improved, it still has a long way to go to reclaim its former spot amongst the elite programs in the country.
“If you would have said to me, six or seven months ago, after the first individual workout and said that we would come to the Garden and beat Syracuse in an emotional, intense game, and then take a split... really, if you had taken a lie detector, I would be thrilled with where we’re at after four (games). That being said, I did not like the job I did in getting my team ready. So, I failed today. It’s a bitter taste for me. Bitter.”
After shooting a sizzling 12-of-21 on threes Thursday, UConn missed all eight of its three-point attempts in the first half and finished a woeful 4-of-26 from behind the line. Alterique Gilbert had a rough game, shooting 1-of-9 from three, while Tarin Smith was 0-of-6 from long range.
“The ball was sticking for us. It was our first adversity in a game in terms of getting behind,” noted Hurley, whose team was led by Adams’ 20 points. “It wasn’t selfishness that kicked in. These guys wanted this one so bad. They desperately wanted to win something. We had a chance to win a championship. Once we got down, we were trying to score seven-point buckets, eight-point baskets. We kind of stopped trusting each other. What’s made us good offensively got away from us today.”
One bright spot, though, was the revelation of center Eric Cobb in the two games at MSG. Cobb was the Huskies’ best player Friday, recording 16 points on 7-of-8 from the field, along with a team-high seven rebounds. In the two games of this tournament, Cobb had 29 points and 20 rebounds. Last season, in a year that included sporadic playing time, a suspension, and uneven play, Cobb finished with only a total of 26 points and 40 rebounds. He was named to the All-Tournament team.
UConn’s next high profile contest is on Dec. 2 against Arizona in Hartford. In-between, the Huskies have three winnable home games against Cornell, New Hampshire and UMass-Lowell, starting on Tuesday.
While this loss may be “bitter” as Hurley said, UConn is still had its biggest win in over two seasons Thursday and, despite the score against Iowa, never gave in, with its effort evident until the clock ran out.
Was Hurley frustrated? Clearly. Discouraged? Hardly.
“It’s going to take us time to get better,” he said. “Hopefully, by January or February, we’ll be a strong overall team.”
The signs are there.