No. 22 UConn men’s basketball had the lead inside a minute to go after storming back from a double-digit deficit in the first half, but could not close the deal against Michigan State in the Battle 4 Atlantis semifnals, dropping a close 64-60 decision against the Spartans.
“We just weren’t tough enough at the end to finish plays,” Tyrese Martin said postgame.
Adama Sanogo had 18 points and 10 rebounds, as well as six blocks, while Martin also added a double-double, contributing 16 points and 12 rebounds. RJ Cole (10 points) also reached double figures.
It was clear UConn played a tough, emotional, contest on Wednesday against No. 19 Auburn. It took the Huskies 4:22 to get onto the scoreboard and 5:30 to hit a field goal when Cole hit a 3-pointer, starting out 0-6 as a team. That would not improve through the remainder of the half, as UConn shot 25.8 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes.
“I think they started with more energy and I think that was a little expected,” Hurley said.
“They had fresher legs than we had.”
Despite the tough shooting day early, UConn was 6-8 from the free throw line and committed only four team fouls in the first half, keeping the Spartans off the line entirely. This helped keep UConn within shouting distance, down 32-24 at the half.
This offensive trouble extended to sophomore forward Adama Sanogo, who had his team’s first 10 points on Wednesday and led the way with 30 points in the double-overtime thriller. The Huskies wanted to get Sanogo the ball early, but the shots weren’t falling for him, as he was 0-4 to start, registering his first points with 6:33 remaining in the first half.
Sanogo was still contributing defensively despite going through it offensively, but his defensive partner, Isaiah Whaley, was surely missed.
Whaley fainted at the conclusion of Wednesday’s game and though initially the program said he was fine and ready to play, he was scratched pregame as a precaution.
After headed into the break down eight, UConn came out strongly in the first half. They went into the under-16 timeout shooting 7-9 from the field, compared with 3-10 for Michigan State, trimming the deficit to two.
The media timeout didn’t slow the Huskies down, as on the Spartans’ first possession, Martin blocked a jumper, grabbed the rebound and then grabbed a breakaway dunk to re-tie the game at 41 for the first time since it was 0-0.
The shots that were clanging off the rim in the first half for the Huskies soon began to fall, and they started to force more Michigan State turnovers, as the Huskies quickly got to within one possession. The Spartans turned the ball over just four times in the first 20 minutes, but coughed the ball up eight times in the second half.
However, the lead would elude the Huskies until Cole hit a 3-pointer from the left wing with 7:45 remaining to give his team a 49-48 lead.
UConn held the Spartans at arm’s length from that point until 1:07 remaining, when a Sanogo miss let Michigan State get out on the fast break. Julius Marble laid it in and was fouled with the opportunity to tie the procedings with a free throw, but missed off the front rim.
On Michigan State’s ensuing possession, Cole fouled out and AJ Hoggard made both free throws, to set up UConn’s final chance at re-taking the lead with the shot clock off. Martin’s pass to Sanogo was picked off and the Spartans hit their free throws to clinch the win.
“We surged late,” Hurley said. “But there were a few plays that unnerved us.”
“We made mistakes down the stretch of the game that cost us the chance to play in a championship.”
UConn (5-1) will play its final game in the Bahamas on Friday against the loser of Baylor/VCU in the Battle 4 Atlantis third-place game. Tip off is at 1:30 p.m. on either ESPN or ESPN2.