Men's College Basketball

Huskies Overpower Golden Eagles, Win Big East Tournament


UConn guard Cam Spencer runs into a Marquette defender during Saturday’s Big East Tournament championship game at Madison Square Garden. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The UConn Huskies shot 63 percent in the second half to overpower the tough defense of the Marquette Golden Eagles to win the Big East Tournament 73-57 in front of an announced crowd of 19,812 at sold out Madison Square Garden on Saturday.

The game started slow. Like yesterday’s semifinal versus Providence, Marquette forward Oso Ighodaro opened up the scoring with a jump shot to give the Golden Eagles an early 2-0 lead.

Then everything stopped. The defenses from both teams locked in hard. Neither team could get good looks at the basket. In the five-and-a-half minutes between Ighodaro’s basket and UConn forward Samson Johnson’s score tying dunk, the rivals combined for a paltry 2-for-16 field goal shooting. The score was only 2-2 with 13:27 left before halftime.

The two powerhouses traded baskets, but it was UConn’s Donovan Clingan who kept the Huskies in contention. The Golden Eagles had no proper answer for the 7-foot-2 sophomore center. In the course of six minutes, he went 4-for-6 from the free throw line and made two layups, scoring eight points in that span, while Marquette scored ten points with three-pointers from guards Kam Jones and Zaide Lowery, a jump shot from Ighodaro, and a layup by guard Stevie Mitchell. With 7:42 remaining in the first half, the score was tied 12-12.

Marquette forward Oso Ighodaro shoots over the outstretched arms of UConn center Donovan Clingan for the game’s first score during Saturday’s Big East Tournament championship game at Madison Square Garden. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Both teams had to operate with precision to find an advantage. UConn took a four point lead, the largest lead for either team in the half, when guard Tristen Newton hit a three-pointer with 3:41 left on the clock to make the score 19-15. Lowery answered with a tip in shot off of a missed off-balanced three-pointer by Marquette guard David Joplin as the shot clock expired. Clingan made two free throws, after being fouled by Lowery, to restore the four-point lead.

Kam Jones missed a layup for the Golden Eagles, which was rebounded by Huskies guard Stephon Castle, who passed the outlet to Newton. After crossing the timeline, Newton set up the play with a pass to forward Alex Karaban. The pass was intercepted by Joplin, who scored on a fast break layup. Joplin then blocked Castle’s field goal in the paint which led to a three-pointer by Jones. The 5-0 run gave Marquette the 22-21 lead with 1:39 remaining in the half.

Karaban and Joplin exchanged jump shots, but Newton’s three-pointer just before the end of the half gave the Huskies the 26-24 lead at the break.

UConn shot 30.0 percent on 9-for-30 shooting in the first half while Marquette faired only slightly better. The Golden Eagles were 10-for-31 in field goals for 32.3 percent in the half.

The scoring was balanced throughout the first ten minutes of the second half. Both teams waited patiently for the open shot, and no one player dominated. As a result, the lead changed hands several times. The largest lead that Marquette could amass was a single point. UConn managed to go ahead by five points, their largest lead of the game, when forward Jaylin Stewart hit a three-pointer with 10:18 left in the game.

UConn center Donovan Clingan dunks while forward Ben Gold tries to block the shot during Saturday’s Big East Tournament championship game at Madison Square Garden. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The Huskies exploited a crack in the Golden Eagles defense, just as Marquette’s exhaustion was setting in. It enabled UConn to go on a 16-3 run over the next four minutes with three-point shots made by Newton, Stewart and guard Hassan Diarra. A three-pointer by forward Ben Gold was Marquette’s only response during this stretch. The Huskies now led 60-44 with 5:54 on the clock.

After Kam Jones had a shot blocked by Newton, Mitchell tipped in the offensive rebound for a Marquette basket. Then Newton attempted a three-pointer and fouled Mitchell on the rebound. The Marquette guard made both free throws.

Then Clingan asserted his dominance. He made a free throw after being fouled by Gold. Then exchanged dunks with Gold. Jones scored on a layup which Clingan answered with a jumper. UConn maintained a 65-52 lead with 3:04 left as the crowd got excited knowing that victory was near.

Nothing the Golden Eagles could do in the last three minutes could stop the Huskies. The lead was too large, especially as UConn converted its free throws down the stretch. Gold managed to hit another three-pointer and Mitchell converted two free throws after being fouled by Newton, but Karaban’s dunk with 1:21 left on the clock sealed the deal.

Marquette allowed UConn to run out the clock. Cam Spencer attempted a three pointer before the shot clock expired but missed. Jones took the rebound down the court and missed on a three-pointer of his own. Clingan grabbed the rebound. The 73-57 victory was secured and the UConn Huskies were the tournament champions and earned the automatic trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Marquette guard Kam Jones led the Golden Eagles with 13 points and 8 rebounds during Saturday’s Big East Tournament championship game against the UConn Huskies at Madison Square Garden. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

UConn went 26-for-57 from the field (45.6 percent); 7-for-24 from three-point range (29.2 percent); and 14-for-17 from the free throw line (82.4 percent). They turned the ball over nine times for 12 Marquette points.

“It was a privilege to play Marquette. I say that a lot. But I think those are two championship programs on the court. I think we mirror each other in so many ways. I’ve just got so much respect for Shaka. I’ve got so much respect for their team and the way they go about their program,” said UConn head coach Dan Hurley.

“But it was one of those things, it was Game 3, third day, two champs. We’re both championship programs. They played with a level of desperation and urgency. But we eventually were able to find a rhythm, and we get the separation,” Hurley added.

Marquette went 21-for-51 from the field (38.9 percent); 6-for-18 from three-point range (33.3 percent); and 9-for-11 from the charity stripe (81.8 percent). They committed 10 turnovers for six UConn points.

“Congrats to UConn. Terrific game by them. Terrific season by them. I thought our guys had
phenomenal fight, went toe to toe with a team that’s probably played better than anyone in college basketball,” said Marquette head coach Shaka Smart.

“I thought we ran out of steam there probably in the last 10 minutes. Donovan Clingan was the biggest difference. He puts you in a bind as a team defensively because it’s hard to guard him with one guy, and the way that we defend pick-and-rolls, sometimes smaller guys get on him, and that’s a problem. But he does that to a lot of people,” Smart added.

UConn head coach Dan Hurley celebrates the Big East Tournament championship after cutting down the net following Saturday’s win against Marquette at Madison Square Garden. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Donovan Clingan led all scorers with 22 points and all rebounders with 16. Tristen Newton added 13 points for the Huskies and his 10 assists were a game-high.

“They were playing good defense and we were playing good defense. We weren’t really nervous. It’s just the shot wasn’t falling and we got to the huddle and we knew – Coach did a good job of telling us we were doing a great job on defense. They had two points and it was 2-0 for a
long time,” said Newton. “I wouldn’t say nervous or really worried throughout the game. We knew our offense would click and that’s what happened and we ended up getting the win.”

The Golden Eagles were led by 13 points from Kam Jones, who also led his team with eight rebounds. David Joplin pitched in for 12 points. Jones and Oso Ighodaro each dished four assists to lead their team.

“Obviously losing this game is not what we wanted, but we have bigger goals, bigger aspirations, and we want to have the most fun in our lives the next couple weeks,” said Joplin, who knows that his team’s future rests on the NCAA tournament invitation. “Today was rough for sure, but if we get the opportunity, like Coach said earlier in the locker room, we’ve got a great team, and we’ve got a great chance to play well in the tournament, and that’s all you need is a chance.”

The win secures UConn’s trip to the NCAA tournament. They will find out tomorrow if their 30-3 record will earn them the No. 1 seed in the tournament.

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