It was a snowy Super Bowl Sunday outside Madison Square Garden while a defensive brawl occurred inside the world’s most famous arena between No. 24 UConn men’s basketball and St. John’s, with the Huskies grabbing a 63-60 victory over the Red Storm.
Tyrese Martin led the way with 17 points for the Huskies, all of which came in the second half. He was in front of all scorers, while RJ Cole added 14 points and Isaiah Whaley contributed 11. Andre Jackson had an impressive 16 rebounds as well.
The Huskies had 13 blocks and out-rebounded their hosts by 11.
“We played a little bit more to our identity today,” head coach Dan Hurley said postgame.
UConn spent 12:09 of the first half with the lead, but were unable to stretch that advantage out into anything significant. The team’s largest lead was merely five and St. John’s was able to stay within arm’s length.
“We had so many quality shots today,” Hurley said. “I think it’s a little bit of fatigue.”
UConn has played four games in eight days, three of which were on the road.
UConn’s offensive sets were strong and the Huskies were active with the ball, but it wasn’t always translating into points. Sanogo ran the floor for a few transition buckets, while slip screens to Whaley were also proving effective throughout the half, but UConn just couldn’t find the basket often enough, shooting 12-32 from the field and 4-14 from beyond the arc.
Jordan Hawkins and Tyler Polley had a few 3-pointers rattle out on open looks, and Sanogo was just 3-6 from the field after scoring six points early before getting into foul trouble. These missed opportunities helped keep the Red Storm around.
Meanwhile, Whaley drew the tough assignment of guarding Julian Champagnie, who scored 27 against the Huskies back on Jan. 14 in Gampel Pavilion. He was held to just four points in the first half, but Dykan Addae-Wusu was 5-9 from the field in the first 20 minutes, to lead all scorers with 12.
“I wanted that matchup,” Whaley said. “I really wanted to guard him and show why I won defensive player of the year last year….That was big for my confidence.”
Champganie was hot early in the second half, grabbing seven points over the first eight minutes, but Tyrese Martin matched his intensity. After foul trouble limited him to seven minutes and an 0-3 shooting performance in the first half, Martin hit a trio of transition 3-pointers to keep his squad up front headed into the final stretch.
“That’s what your best players have to do if you want to have a great year,” Hurley said.
The Red Storm went on an 11-0 run over three minutes in the middle of the half, capped off by a Stef Smith 3-pointer from the top of the key that bounced off front rim and got the shooter’s roll. However, UConn responded with a run of its own to re-take the lead.
UConn earned the advantage on a Whaley offensive rebound, cleaning up the glass after a Martin 3-pointer, and he got hacked on the shot for an and-one opportunity, which he hit as part of an 11-0 run spanning nearly five minutes.
Neither team had their best shooting performance, with both shooting below 40 percent. This kept procedings close the final whistle.
Martin did his job to close out on the offensive glass to help secure the win, when Cole missed a 3-pointer from the wing, but Martin grabbed the rebound and scored to put his team up four. Despite a St. John’s 3-pointer on the ensuing possession, Cole hit his free throws, putting the game out of reach for the Red Storm.
“He’s a big-time player,” Whaley said of Martin. “Big-time players make big-time plays and he’s been huge for us.”
UConn (17-7, 8-5 Big East) will play next on Wednesday against Seton Hall. Tip-off at Gampel Pavilion is set for 8:30 p.m. and will be on CBS Sports Network.