Men's College Basketball

Huskies Outlast Red Storm in Big East Semifinal


St. John’s guard Jordan Dingle attempts an off balanced shot over the outstretched arms of UConn guard Stephon Castle during Friday’s Big East Semifinal game at Madison Square Garden. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The top seeded UConn Huskies outlasted fifth seeded St. John’s Red Storm 95-90 during Friday’s Big East Tournament Semifinal matchup at Madison Square Garden.

The Red Storm drew first blood with a layup from center Joel Soriano, and a three-pointer from guard Daniss Jenkins. Immediately after hitting the shot, Jenkins stole the inbounds pass and converted it into a fast break layup. The Red Storm took the early 7-0 lead.

UConn guard Cam Spencer scored on a three-pointer for the Huskies first points on the night, but Jenkins promptly answered that with a trey of his own. UConn forward Alex Karaban hit a three-pointer and Jenkins answered that with a layup and a free throw, after being fouled by Husky center Donovan Clingan. It was 13-6 in favor of St. John’s with 16:19 remaining in the half and Jenkins had already scored 11 points.

The Huskies, led by Clingan, scored the next seven points. Clingan connected on a layup and a dunk, while guard Hassan Diarra made a shot while getting fouled by guard Chris Ledlum. The score was tied 13-13 with 14:52 left until halftime.

UConn guard Tristen Newton and St. John’s forward Zuby Ejiofor took over the scoring duties for their respective teams. Newton knocked off 12 points in the ensuing six minutes while Ejiofor scored four points during that span.

With 8:14 on the clock, Spencer drove towards the basket and was fouled by Soriano. St. John’s head coach Rick Pitino, no stranger to games at Madison Square Garden, threw up his hands and yelled at the officials. He was assessed a technical foul.

St. John’s guard Daniss Jenkins attempts a layup while UConn guard Tristen Newton tries to defend during Friday’s Big East tournament semifinal game at Madison Square Garden. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

“We were in serious foul trouble. I had to play without Soriano and without Ledlum the entire half basically at that point, and I felt that things weren’t going our way,” said Pitino. “And I will say when I made those statements, they were contrived and they were statements I wanted to make, and they were technicals that I wanted to get.”

Before things calmed down and play resumed, the officials assessed a technical foul on UConn head coach Dan Hurley, who was asking the officials to eject a fan from the game.

“Obviously the place was in a frenzy when coach [Pitino] got his. And then there was a guy – there was a short guy in a red blazer that was on the court yelling at the refs, and then he started yelling at me, you know, and moving in my direction. So I was just kind of pointing out to
(referee) James [Breeding] that he was behaving worse than Coach Pitino,” said Hurley.

“I was really just trying to help the officials, you know. They might not have seen it. And then I got a technical for pointing out more increasingly aggressive fans. At courtside you shouldn’t end up on the court,” Hurley added. “I kept him in. They were going to eject him from the game. I went over there to tell the ushers I wanted him to stay, not because I thought he was a good guy. I thought it might be bad luck. Karma. Not because I, you know.”

“I haven’t had a technical in a really long time. I was really looking forward to that moment,” laughed Pitino. “And then I had to go against Bobby Hurley, he brings in another Hall-of-Famer going against me sitting at courtside.” Pitino was referencing Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Bob Hurley, Dan Hurley’s father, who was sitting courtside near his son.

The technical fouls offset each other so no technical foul free throws were attempted. Spencer went 2-for-2 from the line after the common foul by Soriano, and UConn had a 32-24 lead.

For the rest of the quarter, the teams traded baskets. UConn’s Newton scored eight more points while forward Jaylin Stewart added eight more. St. John’s guard Jordan Dingle got the hot hand for the Red Storm with seven points, including a personal 5-0 run by stealing an inbounds pass for a fast break layup after scoring on a three pointer.

However, the half ended when Jenkins scored a layup as time expired. Upon further review by the officials, they determined that the ball was still in his hand when the buzzer sounded and waved off the field goal. The score was 52-47 in favor of the Huskies at halftime.

UConn guard Tristen Newton led the Huskies with 25 points, while St. John’s guard Jordan Dingle pitched in 19 for the Red Storm during Friday’s Big East tournament Semifinal game at Madison Square Garden. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The goal for UConn in the second half was to stay a step ahead of the Red Storm, while St. John’s had to get a few defensive stops to get back into the game.

At first it looked like Pitino’s squad was going to get the better of the top seed as forward Glenn Taylor Jr. was fouled by Donovan Clingan just 19 seconds into the second half. Taylor made one of two free throws. A minute later, Dingle scored on a layup cutting the deficit to two points. It was 52-50 with 18:46 remaining.

The teams traded baskets until UConn went on an 8-0 run with a three-pointer by Spencer, Samson Johnson dunk, along with a free throw and layup by Newton to make the score 64-54.

Dingle took it upon himself to get things going for St. John’s. After a jump shot from Jenkins, Dingle added a three-pointer which was answered by UConn guard Hassan Diarra. Dingle then hit another three pointer, and then scored a layup, keeping the Red Storm in the game. It was 76-69 with 7:30 remaining on the clock.

Every time that the Red Storm scored, the Huskies answered with one of their own. If Karaban scored, Soriano scored. If Spencer scored, Ledlum scored. When Stephon Castle scored, so did Dingle.

In the end, the Red Storm ran out of time. With three seconds left on the clock, Jenkins attempted a three-pointer only to get fouled by Karaban with a late whistle. Jenkins made all three free throws, but it wasn’t enough. The Huskies won 95-90.

UConn went 31-for-54 from the field (57.4 percent); 11-for-22 from three point range (50.0 percent); 22-for-24 from the free throw line (91.7 percent). The Huskies committed 10 turnovers leading to 11 St. John’s points, and dished 23 assists on 31 field goals.

“Obviously, awesome atmosphere. Thought it lived up to everything that people hoped for with this game tonight, the emotions, the intensity, the shot making. It was just a fun game to be a part of,” said Hurley. “Ultimate respect for, obviously, Coach Pitino, and how good they are in year one. I don’t know what seed they’ll be, but that’s one of the better teams we’ve played, one of the more talented teams, and clearly an NCAA Tournament team.

St. John’s went 32-for-71 from the field (45.1 percent); 10-for-22 from three point range (45.5 percent); and 16-for-18 from the charity stripe (88.9 percent). The Red Storm committed five turnovers leading to nine UConn points.

“Real proud of our guys. I saw some things in Jordan Dingle that I absolutely loved tonight, a competitive fire in him that was great to see. Daniss has always had it. Jordan keeps getting better and better and better. And, unfortunately, we just couldn’t get a run, get over the top,” said Pitino. “Biggest problem was our transition defense. They were eight for nine in the first half, and that put us in the box. Sometimes you can’t always go to the offensive glass, you gotta get back. But these guys played their tails off, real proud of them. We were hoping for a Big East crown, but the other team was better than us. We’ve played them three times to the wire, and they find a way to win.”

UConn guard Tristen Newton scored a layup for two of his 25 points during Friday’s Big East tournament semifinal game. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Tristen Newton led UConn with 25 points, Cam Spencer added 20, Alex Karaban netted 14, and Hassan Diarra pitched in for 10 points. Newton and Stephon Castle each pulled down six rebounds to lead the team, while Newton and Spencer each dished nine assists.

“We feel like we’re just so unselfish offensively that we just continue to move the ball, and continue to pass up good shots or great shots, and we did a great job of that tonight. The coaches do a great job of reading the game and just picking the plays. The plays worked. So just continue to do that, continue to execute and unselfishness. That’s what makes our team so special,” said Karaban.

Daniss Jenkins led all scorers with 27 points. Jordan Dingle added 19 points for St. John’s. Joel Soriano pulled down a game high nine rebounds, while Jenkins dished five assists.

“I don’t think that we played a great game for all 40 minutes, and that’s kind of what it comes down to. We’ve gotten a lot better with that as the course of the season has gone on and our ability to fight back,” said Dingle. “I’m really proud of us for that. Our competitive spirit never died and never waived, and we believed in ourselves till the very end. So I think that’s the big takeaway for today’s game, and I’m going to keep going forward.”

The Huskies led 38-28 in points-in-the-paint, while the Red Storm had the 18-11 edge in second chance points. The game was tied twice and there were three lead changes.

“And they’re the Kentucky of the east,” Pitino said. “They got the greatest fan base in basketball, and Kentucky had the greatest fan base in that part of the country. Kansas has the greatest fan base in their part of the country. So we’ll get it. We lost a lot of fans in the last 20 years. We gotta get them back. And I think efforts like tonight will get them stimulated and get them back.”

UConn now advances to the Big East Tournament Final, which will be held tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. ET at Madison Square Garden against the winner of the Villanova/Marquette semifinal game.

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