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UConn men’s basketball outlasts Marquette 78-70

Tyrese Martin led UConn with 25 points as the Huskies picked up their first Big East win of the season.

NCAA Basketball: Connecticut at Marquette Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The UConn men’s basketball team grinded out a hard-earned win Tuesday night, dispatching Marquette 78-70 to improve to 10-3 overall and 1-1 in the Big East.

Tyrese Martin paced the Huskies with 25 points and six rebounds, while RJ Cole chipped in 20 points and seven assists on 8-12 shooting. Both Martin and Cole hit career scoring milestones of 1,000 and 2,000 points, respectively, in the second half. Sophomore Andre Jackson stuffed the statsheet to the tune of 10 points, six rebounds, and three assists, though all of his scoring was in the first half.

“If we get that level guard play from RJ, Tyrese and Andre, we’re tough to beat,” head coach Dan Hurley said post-game.

In what’s becoming a season-long trend, it was a rock fight from start to finish. UConn’s offense showed some improved rhythm from the Providence loss but still struggled at times. In a game where a lot of team stats were evenly matched, it was clutch individual moments from Martin and Cole that brought home the quad one win.

“He’s improved all aspects of his game. His ability off the dribble to get to the rim and finish is improved. He knows he’s an all-conference level player and a tough matchup,” Hurley said of Martin.

Jackson and Akok Akok shouldered the scoring load to start, with the Huskies handling Shaka Smart’s 2-2-1 press well. Blown coverages on defense gave Marquette a two-possession lead early, with the Golden Eagles shooting 8-11 from the field at the under-12 timeout. An in-rhythm a Tyler Polley trey, then a coast-to-coast and-one for Jackson gave the Huskies some cushion as they tightened the screws defensively.

After missing more than four games due to an abdominal injury, Adama Sanogo returned to action for the Huskies, coming off the bench and hitting a few big baskets early on. While the sophomore looked a little rusty on both ends, he still manages to score six points and add two boards in 12 minutes.

Marquette threw some zone at UConn, but Cole and company found the seams and were able to stretch the lead to seven. A Martin three at the buzzer gave UConn a six-point lead, but prior to that, mental lapses on both ends kept Marquette hanging around.

The tone didn’t change much to open up the second half, as UConn played tough defense and found timely offense, but could never gain comfortable separation.

Cole’s coast-to-coast and-one put UConn up 11, but by the under 12 timeout, the Huskies — who were biting on every pump fake and committing amateur-hour turnovers — letting Marquette back into the game.

With Cole on the bench with three fouls, UConn looked rudderless as Marquette whittled down the Husky lead to one after a 16-6 scoring run. UConn had no answer inside for Marquette’s Justin Lewis, as the Golden Eagles’ leading scorer bullied anyone who guarded him.

With 3:50 to play and UConn up two, Marquette’s Kur Kuath missed a wide-open dunk and Martin promptly rattled off six points to put the Huskies up seven and put the game out of reach.

Outside of Cole, Martin, and Jackson, no other Husky reached double figures, but Akok posted six points and six rebounds. Akok and Isaiah Whaley (four points, six rebounds) worked with Martin to control the glass on both ends and help the Huskies outrebound the Golden Eagles, 30-29.

Any true road quad-one win in the Big East is worthy of praise, despite the obvious second-half warts, like the Huskies once again squandering a double-digit lead. And while Marquette was without senior star Daryl Morsell, the Huskies essentially had a rusty Sanogo working his way back from injury and stayed in control most of the way.

The Huskies have a week off for the holidays before heading to Cincinnati for a clash against Xavier on Tuesday, Dec. 28 at 7 p.m. ET.