Saturday afternoon was the third time this season that Xavier University's men's basketball team has had to dust off its uniforms after a COVID-19 pause, but unlike the previous restarts – both Xavier wins – the Musketeers didn't walk away victorious this time after a two-week layoff.
UConn entered Cintas Center – which had a few more fans than usual after Ohio approved Xavier's variance request and now allows up to 922 fans in attendance – and handed the Musketeers their third loss of the season, 80-72.
For the first six minutes, Xavier (11-3, 4-3) looked ready and played like it, building a 16-7 lead with three 3-pointers and some nice defense to back it up.
But as quickly as Xavier took control, UConn (9-5, 6-5) took it back and never fully let it go for the rest of the afternoon. The Huskies, without star James Bouknight, who missed his eighth straight game with an injury, went on a run of their own as Xavier's offense hit a wall while its defense fumbled assignments and left shooters wide open.
"After that first four-minute media timeout we came in with a good lead but we just got kind of comfortable and lackadaisical," said Xavier sophomore forward Zach Freemantle, who posted career-highs in points (30) and rebounds (15). "After that we just let them creep right back in it. Can't get comfortable four minutes into the game, that's ridiculous, but we did and they took advantage of it."
UConn outscored Xavier 31-16 over the final 13 minutes of the first half and led 38-32 at the break.
The game ultimately got away from Xavier on the glass and the defensive end of the floor.
"Just didn't think we had enough juice," said Xavier head coach Travis Steele. "I'll be honest, that's on me. I gotta figure it out. I gotta get our guys ready to roll."
Steele thought his starting lineup got the Musketeers off to a nice start, but he said his bench wasn't dialed into the scouting report.
"I thought the glass, we gave up 12 offensive rebounds and 12 second-chance points to UConn. You can't do that," Steele said.
Defensively, Steele said the plan was to try and play the odds on guys like Akok Akok, Andre Jackson and Isaiah Whaley, "those guys who probably don't shoot it as well, they're good players, but they don't shoot it as well and they made us pay on some 3's tonight."
The guy who repeatedly made Xavier pay was UConn's RJ Cole, who scored a team-high 24 points with five 3-pointers and seven assists off the bench.
"RJ Cole was tremendous for them," said Steele. "I thought he controlled the entire game flow on the defensive end and the offensive end."
In the second half, Xavier showed signs of life with a 9-0 run that tied the game, 49-49, with 11:36 left, but the inability to string together stops defensively or score consistently cost the Musketeers down the stretch.
UConn shot 44% from the field and 42% from 3-point. The Huskies' bench outscored Xavier's bench 41-13.
"You can't go into games thinking you're just going to outscore opponents," said Steele. "That's just not gonna happen, not in this league, there's too good of teams."
Outside of Freemantle, who accounted for 26 of Xavier's 62 field-goal attempts, the Musketeers got nine points and 12 assists from Paul Scruggs, and 14 points from Nate Johnson.
When asked if there were any positives to take away from Saturday's performance, Steele thought for a moment and said, "Not really."
Xavier's back in action on Tuesday at St. John's, one of the hotter teams in the Big East at the moment.