Men's College Basketball

Huskies Blow Past Musketeers in Big East Quarterfinal


UConn center Donovan Clingan dunks during Thursday’s quarterfinal game against Xavier. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Fueled by 13 points and seven rebounds each from center Donovan Clingan and guard Tristen Newton, the top seeded UConn Huskies downed the ninth seed Xavier Musketeers 87-60 during Thursday’s Big East tournament quarterfinal game at Madison Square Garden.

The Musketeers defeated eighth seeded Butler 76-72 on Wednesday and used that momentum to take an early 10-0 lead thanks to a layup by guard Desmond Claude, a jump shot by forward Abou Ousmane and back-to-back three-pointers by guard Quincy Olivari. The flat-footed Huskies went 0-for-4 shooting during that three minute span.

The defending national champions got their legs underneath them and pushed back by responding to the Xavier run with one of their own. Guard Cam Spencer hit a jump shot for UConn’s first points. This was followed by a layup from Newton, two layups from forward Samson Johnson, a three-pointer by forward Alex Karaban and a layup from Karaban to complete the 13-0 UConn run.

UConn now led 13-10 with 13:18 remaining in the half but a jumper by Claude with a free throw after being fouled by guard Hassan Diarra tied the game a few seconds later.

The Musketeers maintained their poise and took off on another run, this time a 10-1 run as Claude, Olivari and guard Trey Green all scored. Xavier led 20-14 with 10:21 left in the half.

Xavier guard Dayvion McKnight. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Between the tough Husky defense and shots not falling, the Musketeers were held scoreless for nearly four minutes. However, UConn was unable to capitalize on the Xavier drought. Between lead changes and tie scores, the game seesawed back-and-forth.

Xavier guard Dayvion McKnight was fouled by Karaban with 20 seconds remaining in the half. His two free-throws tied the score 31-31. The tie was broken 10 seconds later when Cam Spencer hit a three-pointer, which was answered by a buzzer-beating jump shot by McKnight to make the score 34-33 in favor of the Huskies at halftime.

Coming out of the locker room, the Huskies meant business. UConn went on a 9-2 run to start the second half, which was followed by a 7-0 run after an Olivari jumper. The Huskies led 54-42 with 10:12 left on the clock.

McKnight and Claude tried keeping pace with the Huskies, but resistance was futile when Clingan took charge. He scored 11 points in a 20-4 scoring run that broke the game wide open. It was 75-49 with 3:43 left in the contest.

It didn’t help matters for Xavier when sophomore guard Apostolos Roumoglou came off the bench for a quick five-points on back-to-back possessions.

When the final horn sounded, the Huskies found themselves winning the 87-60 contest.

UConn went 35-for-60 (58.3 percent) from the field; 7-for-21 (33.3 percent) from three-point range; and 10-for-18 (55.6 percent) in free throw shooting; and committed nine turnovers. They dished 29 assists on 35 field goals.

UConn guard Stephon Castle attempts a shot during Thursday’s quarterfinal game against Xavier. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

“This is a playoff game. When you’re trying to end the other team’s – either like their Big East career or their Big East season, or you’re trying to end a team’s season, period, you’ve got to be absolutely on point. The execution’s got to be on point. The effort and the intensity and the attention to detail, it’s all got to be there,” said Huskies head coach Dan Hurley. “Just I think it took us a half to get going, but also credit Xavier. They played I thought a really, really good first half.”

The Huskies were led by 13 points and seven rebounds each from Donovan Clingan and Tristen Newton. Stephon Castle led all rebounders with eight, while Cam Spencer led UConn with eight assists.

“We’re playing for a championship. This is one of the biggest goals that we set for ourselves at the beginning of the year. If you don’t want to win now, then you probably shouldn’t be playing,” said guard Cam Spencer. “Coach said it, it’s very tough to end anyone’s season, but then to add in the fact that they’re fighting for an NCAA tournament spot makes it even greater. We got to come ready to play tomorrow again.”

Xavier went 21-for-61 (34.4 percent) from the field; 5-for-21 (23.8 percent) from three-point range; and 13-for-15 (86.7 percent) from the free throw line; while committing eight turnovers. They had 13 assists on 21 field goals.

“In the first half, to be down one at the half, I thought we played a lot of energy on defense, got back in transition. Had three turnovers. Did a lot of great things,” said Xavier head coach Sean Miller. “But we weren’t able to sustain it. We simply ran out of gas. Our lack of depth, lack of size, and just the fact that we played last night against that team, we just – we weren’t able to sustain all the very good things that we did in the first half in the second half.”

The Musketeers were led by 17 points and six rebounds from Quincy Olivari. Desmond Claude added 13 points and six rebounds. Each member of the starting rotation had two assists to lead the team.

My team is a very well-coached and very well-connected team, and just because we’re a nine seed doesn’t mean anything. We were competing in that first half, and I told everybody last night, like to unpack your bags because we staying. Just to maintain confidence,” said guard Quincy Olivari.

“And just to fall short and all the emotions, just to come out of what could have been, what happened, finally being able to release the hurt that I had been holding in since Sunday, it was tough. Then to go through the line and have the respectful words that the coaching staff from UConn said, it was a lot, it was definitely a lot,” Olivari added.

The Huskies will play at 5:30 p.m. ET tomorrow against the winner of the quarterfinal game between fifth-seed St. Johns and fourth-seed Seton Hall.

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