TAMPA, Fla. – Coming off a Rookie of the Week honor the Connecticut Huskies were determined to slow down USF talented freshman Jahmal McMurray.
The Huskies primarily used three different defenders to contain McMurray, who was held to 10 points in an 81-51 loss on Thursday night.
“I told the guys at shootaround don’t get frustrated because he’s going to hit some great shots because he’s a great player, but I wanted them to stay determined and I think they stayed determined the whole game and stopped him,” Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie said. “It’s frustration versus determination and I thought our guys stayed on the determination side and not put their heads down because he made a tough floater, some tough 3s, but all in all we did a great job on him.”
McMurray came into the game averaging a team-high and AAC freshman-high 15.7 points a game, but was held to 3-for-15 shooting from the field. He was able to connect on a pair of 3-pointers and hit a floater. He also made both of his free-throw attempts.
“I probably could have been more aggressive on the bounce as far as getting to my mid-range shots,” McMurray said. “I was kind of settling this game and I couldn’t really find a way to get a bucket.”
Despite the tough shooting night McMurray still scored in double figures for the 21st consecutive game.
“Each game gets tougher from my point of view because everybody is keying on me,” McMurray said. “They are scouting our plays and most likely we have already played every team once so it’s not like they haven’t seen us before.”
UConn 6-foot-3 point guard Jalen Adams drew the first assignment of containing McMurray before 6-foot-7 swingman Daniel Hamilton took his turn. McMurray was also guarded by Rodney Purvis and Sterling Gibbs at times and sometimes faced double-teams in trapping situations.
“Every night I see different defenders,” McMurray said. “Every team if they don’t play zone probably throws two or three defenders on me switching on and off just to keep them fresh to get me tired. Tonight my shot wasn’t falling and it wasn’t like I was getting to the free-throw line to get myself going. Tonight I just couldn’t find the hole.”
McMurray came into the game averaging 20.5 points over the last eight games. He was named the AAC Rookie of the Week after averaging 19.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 4.5 assists in two wins over East Carolina and Memphis last week.
“I just try to come in and look at it like I’m the top dog even though I’m young in this conference and I just want to show people what I could do and do anything to help out around here with anything that coach needs,” McMurray said. “I can score the ball really so coach and my teammates put me in good position to do that and I’ve had some pretty good results as far as my play, but I have to credit my teammates for that.”
USF (7-22, 4-12) led 6-4 in the opening minutes before going ice cold from the field making just 1 of their next 22 shots falling behind 28-11.
McMurray hit a pair of free throws to pull USF within 14-11, but UConn followed with a 14-0 run to put the Huskies in control of the game.
“I thought in the first half defensively we were OK,” USF coach Orlando Anitgua said. “It was very uncharacteristic of the way we’ve been playing—the way we started off the game. I don’t know if it was the environment, the game—I know Connecticut had something to do with that—but I don’t know what it was, but certainly it did not look like the team that had been playing the last few games.”
Connecticut (20-8, 9-6) finished with 11 dunks in the game on its way to 57.1-percent shooting (32 of 56) from the field. Purvis led the Huskies in scoring with 18 points while Shonn Miller added 16.
The Bulls were held to 28.0-percent shooting (14 of 50).
USF concludes regular season play against East Carolina on March 2 and at Tulsa on March 5.
“We got ECU coming up at home and we want to send our seniors out with a win and then we go to Tulsa and that will be a hard one,” McMurray said. “Tulsa is pretty good. They’ve got a lot of talent and mature players. It’s going to be a tough two games, it’s not just going to be handed to us so we have to go in and fight.”
The AAC tournament begins on March 10 at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla.