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UConn men’s basketball tops Villanova, 71-69

In a game with multiple twists and turns, the Huskies came out on top at the end.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

In front of a rowdy XL Center crowd Tuesday night, No. 21 UConn men’s basketball took down No. 8 Villanova, 71-69, in a game where head coach Dan Hurley got ejected in the first half.

It was a very closely contested game featuring 18 lead changes including a go-ahead bucket by RJ Cole with 5.9 seconds left. It was the Huskies’ first win over Villanova since 2014 when they beat the Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament. They improve to 20-7 and 11-5 in conference play, extending their winning streak to four.

After having a tough go in the first Villanova game, Adama Sanogo stayed out of foul trouble and led all scorers with 20 points along with six rebounds, three assists, and two blocks. Isaiah Whaley and Cole scored 13 and 12 points, respectively, while Tyrese Martin added nine points and nine rebounds.

Cole also made multiple major plays at the end to make this win possible. He forced a jump ball with 17 seconds left before hitting the go-ahead shot. He also drew a charge on the other end to stop Villanova’s last-second attempt.

Tyler Polley was huge off of the bench as well, scoring nine points, including 3-6 from downtown and a huge three to set up the jump ball and go-ahead points. Andre Jackson finished with eight assists.

UConn ran a frantic offensive pace to start, coming out with great energy that seemed to be fed by the raucous crowd. The place erupted on the first play, a sweet alley-oop from Cole to Jackson, a play that UConn ran for James Bouknight from time to time.

The Huskies started off strong, hitting five of six from the floor and getting Sanogo involved early. Whaley and Martin both knocked down threes and the crowd really started buzzing.

But Villanova responded to every one of UConn’s pushes. The Wildcats ripped off a 7-0 run on the back of some heady play by Colin Gillespie and Brandon Slater that gave them the lead. Both teams traded buckets until they hit a dry spell and went a combined 0-7 before things got a little chaotic with 4:53 left in the first half.

After a no-call on a Tyrese Martin offensive rebound and put-back attempt, Hurley slapped the scorer's table and started screaming at the officials. He got an immediate technical foul, and while he was walking back to the bench he threw up his arms repeatedly in an attempt the pump up the already livid crowd, hoping to use this as fuel for the fans and team.

Referee James Breeding apparently did not appreciate this display, calling a second technical and ejecting Hurley from the game. Gillespie shot all four free throws, hitting three.

With the UConn crowd furiously roaring, forward Jermaine Samuels proceeded to bury a wing three that pushed Villanova’s lead to five and flipped the atmosphere on its head. UConn was in dire need of an answer, of which they got two — an RJ Cole pull-up three and a layup by Whaley to knot the game at 29.

Less than two minutes later, a double technical foul was assessed to Andre Jackson and Villanova’s Justin Moore, after Jackson appeared to drop the ball on Moore after he drove to the hoop, a bizarre sequence that led to each player picking up a personal foul and ending with Moore going 1-2 from the line.

Nevertheless, UConn held strong with Kimani Young running the team and the refs making calls with one eye closed, and took a 33-29 lead into halftime.

UConn started off the second half with nearly the same energy as the first, exploding for a 10-2 run that put them up seven.

With a head coach like Jay Wright and a player like Gillespie leading the way, Villanova is a very tough out. The likely Big East Player of the Year dished it to Brandon Slater for a three, and Moore hit another to cut the lead to one.

Samuels hit a huge three to put the Wildcats up four with just under three minutes to go. The Wildcats hit 12 from distance in this game, including seven in the second half.

The game appeared to be slipping away from UConn after a missed layup by Cole, two more makes at the line by Slater, and an Isiah Whaley turnover. Though the Huskies led for most of the game, they were down four with 31 seconds to play.

Caleb Daniels missed the front end of a 1-and-1, giving UConn some daylight. Young immediately called a timeout to draw up a handoff-screen play for the sharp-shooting Polley, who buried the shot to get UConn within one.

On the ensuing inbounds, Gillespie got the ball near the sideline but UConn swarmed him and was able to get the jump ball to regain possession with 17.5 remaining.

RJ Cole then made the biggest basket of his career thus far.

Noticing Slater was giving him way too much space on his right, he quickly crossed in that direction and rode him all the way to the basket for a tough right-handed finish to take back the lead.

Gillespie had a chance to win it after going the length of the court, but it was Cole once again, taking yet another charge, to effectively end the game.

Up next, the Huskies are on the road against Georgetown, who is currently last in the Big East with an 0-15 conference record. The game tips off at 12 p.m. on Saturday from the Capital One Center in Washington DC and will be televised on CBS.