Hawkins, Jackson return for to help UConn men's victory

Hawkins, Jackson return for to help UConn men’s victory

STORRS — With 3 minutes and 40 seconds left in the first half Friday night, the UConn men’s basketball team got a taste of what it’s been missing over the first three games of the season.

Andre Jackson Jr. drove from the top of the key and fired a pinpoint pass in the right-hand corner to Jordan Hawkins, who calmly swished a 3-pointer.

There was more. A little less than five minutes into the latter half, Jackson picked Jamarli Thomas’ pocket near halfcourt and quickly hit Hawkins in stride for a rousing slam dunk.

And late in the game, with UConn owning a 31-point lead, there was Jackson scrambling frantically on the floor for a loose ball — all energy and desire.

“He’s the best leader that I’ve ever been around as a player, and I’m not sure it’s even close,” coach Dan Hurley said of Jackson. “Totally savage, man.”

Hawkins hadn’t played since suffering a concussion midway through the first half of the Huskies’ Nov. 7 season-opener. Jackson hadn’t played all season after breaking his right pinkie finger in practice back in October.

But Hawkins’ silky-smooth jump shot and Jackson’s furious energy were back on Friday at Gampel Pavilion, giving No. 25 UConn a needed jolt in an 86-50 win over UNC-Wilmington.

Adama Sanogo led the way with 24 points and Alex Karaban added 12 as the Huskies improved to 4-0. But it was the return of Hawkins and Jackson that mattered most. And the duo didn’t disappoint.

Hawkins hit 5 of 8 3-pointers for a career-high 20 points. Even his misses looked true.

“He looked sharp,” Hurley said of the 6-foot-5 sophomore. “He let it come to him. A little rusty with the ball, but that happens. It’s the hardest thing to get back when you miss time is hand-eye coordination. The missed dunk, and he was bobbling the ball a little bit out there.”

“For a guy that’s been out, and against a team that plays as hard as they do,” Hurley added, “he looked pretty damn good.”

Hawkins, who missed all four of his field goal attempts before getting injured against Stonehill, started on Friday and was busy early. He drew a charge and grabbed a defensive rebound within the first four minutes, but also turned the ball over and missed an open dunk.

Just over 5 1/2 minutes into the game, Hawkins notched his first points of the season on a 3-pointer from the left corner. He scored nine points over the final 3 1/2 minutes of the half on a pair of treys and an and-1 off a putback of his own miss.

“Man, it felt good, especially playing with ‘Dre,” Hawkins said. “We haven’t played with each other in a while. It just felt good to play basketball again. It’s been ups and downs since last year, but being back on the court felt great.”

Jackson scored just two points, taking just two shots, but affected the game in so many other ways with five assists, two blocks, a steal and boundless energy on both ends of the floor. He finished with a plus/minus of plus-33 in just 19 minutes.

“Sometimes the plus/minus is coincidental, but not in this instance,” Hurley said. “He just changed the whole tenor of the game.”

Jackson didn’t start but made his season debut with 12:21 left in the half to a nice ovation from the 7,766 at Gampel.

“It meant a lot, because I’ve always been a fan of UConn basketball,” the 6-6 junior said. “Just to see that UConn Nation has that appreciation for me, it really made me want to work that much harder.”

It took him a while to get in the flow, but over the final 3 1/2 minutes hit Hawkins for his corner trey, found Sanogo for an inside hoop and hit Karaban in the right corner for a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that capped a 17-6 Husky run and gave UConn a 40-28 halftime lead.

He was active and disruptive on defense the rest of the way. The song of “An-dre Jack-son!” went up through the crowd after he fought for a loose ball with that 31-point lead.

“He’s a rare type of player,” Hurley noted. “He flipped that whole game, taking two shots.”

Added Jackson: “The energy I brought, even though I didn’t show in the stat sheet too much, I definitely helped the other guys to get their momentum going and get their energy going in the game.”

Hurley said he only planned to play Jackson for about 10-12 minutes.

“I couldn’t take him off the court,” the coach said. “He changed the game.”

Hawkins played 24 minutes, a little more than Hurley had planned, as well. Those minutes-restrictions are off now for the Huskies’ bout with Delaware State on Sunday at XL Center (5 p.m., FS1).

It was important to get Hawkins and Jackson back in game action before heading out to Portland, Oregon for the competitive Phil Knight Invitational next week. UConn will face Oregon in its first game on Thanksgiving, then play either Michigan State or Alabama on Friday. The Huskies could face No. 1-ranked North Carolina in their third game on Sunday.

But first things first: a final tune-up on Sunday for a UConn team that, for the first time all season, has two of its best players back and showing what the team has been missing all this time.

RIM RATTLINGS

•UConn was beyondbounded in the first half and wound up with a 36-32 edge on the glass over the outsized Seahawks (1-3).

“We knew that we’d be challenged on the backboard,” Hurley rued. “They kicked our butt on the glass, I think that demoralized us.”

• UConn signs Solomon Ball, a Class of 2023 guard, did not play for Brewster Academy on Friday at the National Prep Showcase in New Haven due to a concussion.

The UConn coaching staff may be at the event, which is held at Albertus Magnus College, this weekend to see Class of 2024 guard Kayvaun Mulready of Worcester Academy.

david.borges@hearstmediact.com @DaveBorges

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