Holston looks to stay hot at UConn

Troy Holston Jr. has gone from averaging 4.3 points per game over the first 20 games to 16.4 over the past eight. ORACLE FILE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

Only a minute into the second half of the USF men’s basketball team’s game against Cincinnati on Feb. 7, freshman guard Troy Holston Jr. connected on back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Bulls within three. 

USF would wind up losing the game, but Holston’s confidence from those consecutive buckets propelled him to score what was at that time a career-high 16 points. 

In the weeks leading up to the game, Holston had been going through what he described as the worst slump of his life. The freshman shooting guard had been making only 24 percent of his shots up until that point. 

Holston’s slump began when he injured his ankle in a game against North Carolina State on Nov. 23. The guard sat out three games, but said he wasn’t fully ready to play when he was back out on the court Dec. 6.

“I was afraid to injure it again and I was very timid with it,” Holston said. “Once I got over the fact that my ankle’s feeling better, I can sprint how I want, jump how I want, I came back fine.”

The freshman missed all five of his shots in his first game back and was unable to make at least half of his shots until the game against Cincinnati.  

But since his scoring outburst against the Bearcats just over a month ago, the 6-foot-4, 187-pound guard has found his scoring touch. 

“The body language changes,” coach Orlando Antigua said. “The game has slowed down for him. He doesn’t have that anxiety of ‘Oh, I have to get a shot off’ or ‘Oh, I have to make a quick play.’ He has more confidence and is more settled into the flow of the game.” 

He has now made 43.7 percent of his shots since the Cincinnati game and has emerged as a primary scorer on offense, especially with senior guard Corey Allen Jr. forced to sit out due to an NCAA rules violation. 

“I feel more comfortable and confident as well,” Holston said. “My teammates, like (Anthony Collins) and (Nehemias Morillo), have been getting me in good positions to knock down shots I’m comfortable taking so that helps a lot as well.”

Holston and USF (9-22, 3-15) will play what may be the last game of the season tonight in the first round of the AAC Tournament against UConn, the defending national champion. 

The Huskies (17-13, 10-8) haven’t had the same success as last year’s team, but they have four of their five starters scoring at least 10 points per game, including guard Ryan Boatright, who leads the team with 17.8.

“Boatright is playing great and so has (Rodney) Purvis the last two games,” Antigua said. “We’ve done a decent job against (Amida) Brimah the last couple of times we’ve faced him, but Daniel Hamilton is the kind of kid who’s a matchup problem whether he’s at the three or the four.”

The Bulls lost both games by a combined 27 points against UConn this season and will likely need Holston to continue his hot streak tonight at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut, to have a shot at surviving another round.