Jan. 21—UConn coach Dan Hurley waited before entering the Hinkle Fieldhouse locker room at halftime on Thursday night.
He was too upset to go in right away to speak to his Huskies who got off to a sluggish start and trailed by four at intermission against Butler in Big East action in Indianapolis.
“It was ugly in there,” Hurley said during a post-game Zoom session. “I didn’t go in right away and go after them because it probably would have been a little too much. I went into my little locker and stewed for a little bit.
“… You can’t show up and play a first half like that. If you aspire to compete for a championship in this conference, you can’t put 20 minutes on film that looks like that.”
The No. 25 Huskies responded, fighting back and delivering a knockout blow late in the game while rolling to a 75-56 victory and sweeping back-to-back games against the Bulldogs (9-9, 2-5).
Tyrese Martin put on a second half show, scoring 25 of his career-high 27 points after intermission to help the Huskies (13-4, 4-2) win for the fourth time in five games.
“Our depth and maturity as a team wore them down and obviously Tyrese’s performance in the second half was fantastic,” Hurley said. “We’ve been waiting for him to break out since the Providence game (on Dec. 18). … He wanted the ball. He was very decisive.”
On Tuesday, Martin scored a season-low three-point on 1 for 7 shooting in a 17-point win over Butler. His only basket in the first half on Thursday came six seconds before the break.
Martin came out of the locker room possessed, scoring five quick points to fuel an 11-0 spurt that pushed UConn in front for the first time since leading 16-15.
Then, after Butler tied at the game with 12 minutes, 26 seconds remaining, Martin finished off a strong drive to the basket to put the Huskies ahead for good, 40-38.
Martin finished off the Bulldogs, who lost for the fifth time in six games, by firing in 11 of UConn’s final 20 points.
Adama Sanogo continued his recent surge, finishing with 15 points, nine rebounds and three blocks. Isaiah Whaley had his best game in at least a month, chipping in 11 points and 10 rebounds.
UConn outscored Butler, 51-28, in the final 20 minutes.
After converting a brutal 28.6 percent (10 for 35) from the field in the first half, the Huskies made a sizzling 66.7 percent (18 for 27) after intermission. Martin went 10 for 13 after a 1-for-4 start and made four 3-pointers overall.
Hurley had a conversation with both Martin and Whaley leading up to the game on Thursday.
“It wasn’t some incredible inspirational speech,” Hurley said. “Myself and (associate head coach) Kimani (Young) grabbed those two guys. … (Tyrese) has been great this year up until the Providence game, but he was going through a tough stretch. We reminded him how good he was (Wednesday) night.
“And Isaiah, we grabbed him (Thursday) and told him he had to get back to being a wrench, get back to being an impact defender and impact rebounder and he’s really good in the ball screen game. So, he just got back to his identity.”
The Huskies expected a much tougher game than Tuesday when they rolled to a 76-59 win.
Fatigue was a factor for both teams with the quick turnaround.
It was a battle for a while as neither side could pull away.
The Huskies trailed for the majority of the first half and led 60-52 with 3:54 remaining in the game before finishing with a 15-4 spurt.
Hurley was happy to head back to Storrs with a win that keeps UConn within striking distance of the top teams in the Big East.
“It’s a conference road game,” Hurley said. “Anyone that thinks these are like gimmes, look around college basketball. I would have been thrilled getting out of here winning at the buzzer. It’s hard to win in this league. It’s hard to play a team twice in three days.”