UConn is so much better with RJ Cole on the pitch – score, distribute or take charge

RJ Cole was honored ahead of Wednesday night’s game for scoring his 2,000th career point a few weeks earlier at Marquette.

If Cole continues his tenacious and fearless play on both sides of the ball, he could be congratulated for taking his 2,000th charge by the end of the season.

OK, a little exaggerated. But in addition to currently leading UConn in scoring, assists and steals, Cole is by far the team leader in draw charges. He tied four charges in UConn’s 86-78 overtime win over St. John’s on Wednesday at Gampel Pavilion. And while none of those official records stood, it was consistent with what might have been the school record he set in a win over Coppin State on Nov. 13.

Cole has now fired 14 charges this season. Again, no official record stands, but that has to rival the number of fees that human visa Phil Nolan pulled in one of his four seasons at UConn from 2012-2016.

Support is not for everyone. It’s a real skill, where a player must have the coordination to keep their feet still while bearing the brunt of contact with an offensive player’s upper body, not to mention the bravery of essentially falling backwards onto the hardwood.

“It’s natural, instinctive, just having a good sense of where you are on the court and being in the right places,” Cole said in November. “And it’s the staff, knowing what the other team likes to do, so you can take those opportunities.”

Cole’s charge total wasn’t the only impressive number he posted on Wednesday. The graduate point guard scored 19 points, hit a few big 3-pointers and dished out eight assists to just two turnovers in 38 minutes. He also helped hold Red Storm point guard Posh Alexander, who entered the game averaging 15.8 points, to a relatively harmless 11-for-4 on 13 shooting (including 0 for 4-for-3).

It was quite a difference from the year before, when Alexander scored 18 points and hit a three-pointer as St. John’s rallied for a comeback win at Gampel.

“We needed him to win this game (Wednesday),” head coach Dan Hurley said after the game. “He didn’t win this game in the game we lost here.”

So while Adama Sanogo had the starkest numbers — a career-high 26 points, 18 rebounds and six blocked shots in 40 minutes — Cole played perhaps a bigger role in the Huskies’ victory.

“RJ outplaying (Alexander) in this game, and the charges – that was probably the difference in the game,” Hurley said.

While amassing 1,510 points in his two seasons at Howard University, Cole wasn’t exactly known as a defensive prodigy. In fact, after that Coppin State game, Eagles coach Juan Dixon – who had coached Cole several times while they were both in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference – approached the UConn coaching staff. .

“He never played defense,” Dixon recalled. “How did you get a guy like that to pull four charges?”

St. John’s coach Mike Anderson may have had the same question after Wednesday night.

Cole, who now has 2,021 career points, has certainly honed his defensive skills since joining UConn. After being out for a year as a transfer, Cole was strong at times last season – never more so than when shutting down All-Big East first-team Marcus Zegarowski in an eventual overtime loss to Creighton.

Without a doubt, UConn has proven to be a much better team over the past two seasons when Cole, who averages 16.4 points per game, is on the court. After Cole left the Huskies’ Big East Tournament semifinal with Creighton with a head injury last March, a 53-50 lead over UConn quickly turned into a 59-56 loss. .

When Cole fouled Michigan State with 30 seconds left in the Battle for Atlantis on Nov. 25, the Spartans scored the final five points of the game for a 64-60 victory. On Saturday at Seton Hall, Cole fouled out with 2:19 left in overtime and UConn within three points. The Huskies couldn’t even shoot in the final seconds of a 90-87 loss.

But Cole was down all Wednesday night — literally and figuratively. Of course, the (maybe) 6ft 1in Cole found himself in a mismatch over Red Storm 6-8 leading scorer Julian Champagnie in the dying seconds of regulation, and Champagnie knocked down a 3-pointer to give St. John’s a one-point lead with 4.7 seconds left.

“I’m just like, ‘Dang, that was a tough shot,'” Cole recalled. “But once we had the chance to force extra time, I knew we had five minutes left to have a chance of winning the game. I had the utmost confidence in us all the time. I’m just happy that we were able to wrap it up and win the game.

And RJ Cole played a huge part in that. After the Huskies shot a terrible 7-for-14 from the foul line in the second half, Cole shot 6-for-6 from the line in OT to seal the victory.

“It was very important to get back into the win column and have a different spirit around the whole program right now,” added Cole. “It’s been hard to come away with the L’s in those tight games. But it’s a learning curve for us, to keep taking the things we need to win those tight games. I think we’re taking the right things. measures at this time.

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