HARTFORD, Conn. — The University of Connecticut turned up the defensive pressure on the University of Maine on Sunday and turned a close men’s basketball game into a rout.
Freshman James Bouknight, playing at home for the first time, scored 15 points and UConn forced 28 turnovers in Sunday’s 64-40 win.
Alterique Gilbert added 13 points and Tyler Polley had 12 for the Huskies (5-2), who were playing in Connecticut for the first time in two weeks.
Andrew Fleming led all scorers with 16 points for UMaine (2-5), which shot just 35% from the floor and made just six baskets in the second half.
Fleming also had nine rebounds, two assists, two steals and blocked two shots.
Mykhailo Yagodin chipped in with eight points and Nedeljko Prijovic grabbed eight rebounds for UMaine, which had a 34-29 rebounding edge.
“We were active for the most part on the defensive end, which created some turnovers and got us going a little bit offensively,” said Gilbert.
UConn led by seven points at halftime, but forced 10 turnovers during 17-2 run that turned a 35-30 lead into a 52-32 advantage with 11½ minutes to play.
The Huskies scored 28 points off UMaine giveaways, while Maine could manage just six points off UConn’s eight turnovers.
UMaine was playing without point guard Sergio El Darwich, who rolled his ankle on Wednesday in a loss to Virginia.
“UConn came out and really got in our shorts today and really made it tough on us,” UMaine coach Richard Barron said. “I think it showed we were missing our point guard today. They took advantage of that and they should. There’s no pity in this game.”
The game was the fourth of five guarantee games the Black Bears play this season. UMaine, of the America East, received $85,000 from UConn of the American Athletic Conference for the game.
UMaine plays its final guarantee of the season on Dec. 20 when it will receive $65,000 for traveling to Amherst, Mass., to play the UMass Minutemen.
It was the first chance for UConn fans to get a look at Booknight, who was suspended for the Huskies’ first three games this season. The freshman had just four points in the first half, but played better after intermission He brought the crowd to its feet late in the game when he followed up his own missed jumper in the lane with a dunk.
“It’s just something I do with my athleticism, just trying to play hard and stay out on the floor,” he said. “I’ve just got to figure out how to make plays when it’s not dropping.”
Brenda Adams scored 11 points. He and Christian Vital each had four steals for the Huskies.
Gilbert hit consecutive 3-pointers to give UConn an early 11-2 lead over the Black Bears,
But UMaine, which was held to 26 in a loss to Virginia on Friday, scored 10 of the next 12 and held UConn scoreless for more than 6 1/2 minutes to stay in the game.
A layup by Prijovic sent the teams into halftime with UConn up 31-24.
“I was thrilled with the first two minutes and happier with the last 20,” said UConn coach Dan Hurley. “We could have really broke it open in the first half and had a performance that we could feel a lot better about.”
UConn outscored UMaine 33-16 in the second half.
Maine: The Black Bears have not beaten the Huskies since a 79-73 win in Orono on Feb. 15, 1978 when they were members of the old Yankee Conference. They have now lost 14 straight the Huskies and fall to 16-85 in the series.
UConn: Nine players scored for the Huskies, who were without swingman Sid Wilson. The 6-foot-7 sophomore suffered a knee injury in UConn’s 80-55 rout of Miami last week. He had been averaging 4.5 points and 2.3 rebounds this season. Hurley said Wilson could return this week.
It’s been a while
The 28 turnovers were the most forced by UConn since December 2000, when it also forced 28 against Fairfield. The school record is 35, forced against Lafayette in November 1994.
Wearing them down
The Huskies outscored the Black Bears 20-2 on the fast break and got 29 points off the bench. Maine’s starters scored all but six of its points.
Switching it up
Maine, which normally plays man-to-man defense, went to a zone for much of the game and Hurley said that caught the Huskies off guard early. The Huskies shot just 31.3% from the floor in the first half, but 46.2% in the second.
Maine: The Black Bears head to Boston on Wednesday for a game at Northeastern
UConn: The Huskies head back to campus on Wednesday to host Iona