The No. 20 UConn men’s basketball team took care of business in the Big East tournament quarterfinals, dispatching Seton Hall 62-52. All-conference selections RJ Cole led UConn with 17 points, while Tyrese Martin took his hardware snub personally with 17 points of his own to go with eight rebounds. The Huskies now get Villanova in the semifinals tomorrow at 9 p.m.
“We won it with our defense and our rebounding, which is our identity,” head coach Dan Hurley said postgame.
UConn’s defense was the story of the game, holding Seton Hall to 36 percent shooting. They won every margin that’s made the team successful this year; turnovers, rebounding, and points in the paint. On a night where the Huskies only shot 36 percent, consistent stops on the other end was the ultimate redeeming quality.
You knew it was UConn’s night after Tyler Polley connected on a desperation three —complete with an MJ shrug — as the shot clock expired early in the first half. Seton Hall didn’t crack double-digits until 9:12 left in the half, and a balanced scoring effort had UConn cruising. The Pirates were really bothered by UConn’s length and lacked a change-of-pace option. They really missed point guard Bryce Aiken, out the last two months with a concussion.
A 3:59 scoreless drought late in the first half kept it tense until a 9-0 run, featuring a pretty Martin post-up and Jackson 3-pointer. The sophomore was all over the place; diving for loose balls, crashing the glass with reckless abandon and pushing the pace nonstop.
“You can’t take your eyes off [Jackson] when he’s playing,” Hurley said. “He has such a huge impact all over the court.”
Armed with an 11-point lead going into the break despite only shooting only 33 percent from the field, it was all because of a Husky defense that held the Pirates to 25 percent from the floor.
UConn’s defense remained frenetic out of the break, but it was marred by some truly anemic offensive sets. It took seven minutes for someone other than Cole to score for the Huskies. UConn got a little too aggressive on the offensive glass, and the Pirates’ midrange game started to heat up. It was danger time and you could feel it in the crowd.
Right out of the under-12 timeout though, a Tyler Polley up-and-under and-one calmed the anxious UConn crowd and kept the lead at double digits. The Huskies stretched it to as much as 16 until Kevin Willard threw in some 2-2-1 press that halted the momentum. The Pirates had a few chances to cut it to single digits, but UConn’s defense made nothing easy. In the bonus with 5:55 to go and “Let's Go Huskies” chants breaking out in the upper deck, it seemed like UConn was home free. A Cole triple just before the media timeout was nail and coffin, and credit to the Huskies for keeping their foot on the pedal and closing out the game.