Men's College Basketball

Huskies Open Tournament with Lopsided Win Over Stetson


Stetson guard Stephan Swenson is about to dish a pass to a teammate while being defended by UConn guard Tristen Newton as UConn guard Hassan Diarra looks on, during Friday night’s first round game at Barclay’s Center. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The top-seeded UConn Huskies began the defense of their national title with a resounding 91-52 win over 16th ranked Stetson Hatters in the first round of the 2024 NCAA tournament on Friday night in front of an announced crowd of 17,183 at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn.

The Hatters became the last seed after defeating Austin Peay in the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament. This was their first ever NCAA tournament appearance in their forty seasons of conference play.

UConn opened up the scoring with a layup from forward Alex Karaban, which was followed with a dunk by center Donovan Clingan. The duo then repeated their performance as Karaban scored on another layup which was followed by a Clingan dunk..

Stetson forward Treyton Thompson found himself wide open in the paint, scoring the team’s first ever tournament points on a dunk of his own. It was 8-2 in favor of UConn with 15:31 left in the half.

Karaban and guard Cam Spencer combined for the next UConn run, which was broken by a jump shot from Hatters guard Tristan Gross, to make it 16-4 in favor of the Huskies.

Once again, the Huskies made another run, this time a 7-0 run with an off the backboard three pointer by guard Tristen Newton, a layup by guard Stephon Castle and a dunk by forward Jaylin Stewart. Stetson answered with a jump shot from Thompson, making the score 23-6 with 9:59 remaining until halftime.

The Huskies were not finished throttling their opponents in the first half. After Stetson guard Stephan Swenson scored a layup to make the score 33-10, the Huskies put an exclamation point on the half.

Stetson guard Jalen Blackmon tries to drive past UConn guard Stephon Castle during Friday night’s NCAA first round tournament game at Barclay’s Center. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Clingan dominated in the paint with back-to-back layups. Then Spencer scored a layup. Clingan laid it up again. Spencer nailed a three pointer, and forward Samson Johnson dunked. The Huskies pulled off a 13-0 run which ended with a three pointer by Stetson guard Jalen Blackmon making the score 46-13 with 3:05 on the clock.

Each team scored six points during the next three minutes, making the score 52-19 at the half.

The Hatters knew that it would be nearly impossible to overcome a 33-point deficit in the second half, but they were determined to try. For a moment, it looked like they might succeed.

UConn’s Castle was fouled by Hatters guard Aubin Gateretse while converting a layup and converted the free throw to make the score 55-19. Then the Hatters ran at the Huskies.

Swanson scored on a jumper. Gateretse was fouled by Clingan. Gross hit a jump shot, as did Blackmon. When it was over, Stetson found themselves on top of an 11-2 run and the score a respectable 57-30 with 16:10 remaining in the contest.

The athleticism of the Huskies was too much to overcome. Whenever Stetson scored, UConn scored. When Swenson scored a layup, Clingan got fouled while shooting one. Swenson hit a three-pointer, Newton hit one to match.

Every basket that UConn answered got them one-second closer to advancing, and soon the lead was back to 33 points. After Castle fouled Blackmon, who made two free throws to make the score 77-44 with 7:05 left on the clock, Clingan scored a layup, then Castle scored back-to-back layups including a put-back of his own missed shot, making the score 83-44 just two minutes later.

UConn center Donovan Clingan attempts a jump shot while being defended in the paint by two Stetson players, Aubin Gateretse and an unidentified player. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The Hatters still didn’t give up. Not knowing when they would make it back to the tournament, they played their hearts out. Stetson guard Alec Oglesby scored a three-pointer and was later fouled while attempting a shot, converting one free throw in the process. Gatoretse continued to push the ball in the paint, getting fouled by Johnson. Swenson also made two trips to the free throw line by attacking the paint. At the end, it ended with the Huskies ahead 91-52.

The Huskies went 37-for-70 (52.9 percent) from the field; 9-for-24 (37.5 percent) from three-point range; and 8-for-10 (80.0 percent) from the free throw line. They committed nine turnovers that led to four Stetson points.

“Obviously love the start. It’s exactly how you want to start a game like this where – you’re in March Madness. You know the history of these No. 1s or high seeds and just we took away all hope in that game from them early on with the defense, with the offense, with the relentlessness. So I thought pretty good first performance,” said UConn head coach Dan Hurley.

Stetson went 17-for-55 (30.9 percent) from the field; 3-for-20 (15.0 percent) from three-point range; and 15-for-20 (75.0 percent) from the charity stripe. They committed 14 turnovers that led to 17 UConn points.

“What this team, along with these two guys [Swenson and Blackmon] have been able to accomplish at Stetson for the first time in the history of the school is something that cannot be taken away from tonight’s performance. I want to start off with that. As much as it hurts that we fell short tonight, I’ve never been around a group of guys like this,” said Stetson head coach Donnie Jones.

The Huskies outscored the Hatters 56-16 in the paint, and took a 20-5 lead in second chance points. There were no ties or lead changes in the game.

UConn guard Tristen Newton fights through a screen while Stetson guard Stephan Swenson drives past during Friday’s NCAA first round game at Barclays Center. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine.

“Obviously at halftime with the 15 assists, two turnovers, we’re shooting 70 percent. It was hard to be disappointed about a bunch of things there,” said Hurley. “But second half, human nature kicked in a little bit. Obviously we missed some really good opportunities and some good shots and weren’t able to sustain the level that we played at offensively in the first half.”

UConn was led by 19 points from Donovan Clingan; 15 points from Cam Spencer, 14 from Stephon Castle, 13 points from Tristen Newton and a dozen points from Alex Karaban. Clingan led the Huskies with eight rebounds while Newton led the team with eight assists.

“We got off to a fast start like we wanted to. We played great three-point line defense. That’s what the emphasis was, stopping them from the three-point line because they are a good three-point shooting team. And I feel like we moved the ball effectively and turned the ball over – well, more than we wanted to. But you know, I feel like it was a pretty good game, but we have areas to improve on,” said Newton.

Stephan Swenson led the Hatters with 20 points and Jalen Blackmon pitched in for 14. Blackmon led the team with 8 rebounds while Blackmon and Swenson each had a team-high four assists.

“They are a really good team. This is our first time being in the NCAA Tournament, so maybe a little jitters. But when we settled down, we proved that we could compete with them. So we’ll be back, and try to do better next time,” said Blackmon. “Well, first, we don’t want to wait another 52 years or 53 or whatever it was to get back to another NCAA Tournament. We want to make this a thing where we’re getting here every year. And just getting used to it. Getting used to playing in big games like this will be helpful.”

With the first game in their quest to become repeat champions out of the way, the UConn Huskies will advance to the second round to play the No. 9 seed Northwestern Wildcats at 7:45 p.m. ET on Sunday also at Barclay’s Center.

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