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NCAA Tournament: UConn men’s basketball’s season ends in loss to New Mexico State

The Huskies couldn’t dig themselves out of a 14-point hole in the second half.

New Mexico State v UConn Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

UConn men’s basketball has had its season ended in the first round of the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season, as No. 12 New Mexico State upset the No. 5 Huskies 70-63 in Buffalo.

RJ Cole led the way for UConn with 20 points, while Adama Sanogo had 10 points and eight rebounds.

Both offenses were brutal to start. At the under-12 minute media timeout, UConn was 3-11 from the field and New Mexico State was 2-14, which resulted in a 6-5 scoreline.

While the Huskies were struggling to make shots, their defense was smothering. Teddy Allen, New Mexico State’s do-it-all guard, was 0-6 during this stretch and the Aggies were unable to get anything going, taking forced shots at the end of the shot clock.

However, the 6-foot-6 junior woke up.

Allen got onto the scoresheet with 9:41 to go, then he hit another on New Mexico State’s ensuing possession. That was all he needed as he converted on five straight baskets to end the first 20 minutes, finishing the half with 14 points, four rebounds and two assists — all of which were team highs.

“We wanted him to take tough shots,” Tyrese Martin said. “He just happened to take more tough shots than he missed tonight.”

On the other side, the Huskies didn’t have anyone to match Allen’s performance. Tyler Polley hit a pair of 3-pointers but Sanogo, Cole and Martin were a combined 3-13 from the field, including a scoreless half from Martin. UConn had seven assists in the first half, but it was on only nine field goals.

New Mexico State finished on a 12-2 run to end the first half which put UConn in trouble, trailing 32-22 heading into the break. The Huskies, one of the country’s elite rebounding teams, were beat 17-11 on the boards with only one offensive rebound in the opening 20 minutes.

The Huskies got the ball to start the second half after losing the opening tip-off and Sanogo hit a floater in the lane but after back-to-back 3-pointers from the Aggies, Hurley took a timeout with 18:12 to go in the half and his team trailing by 14.

UConn got the message as Cole and Isaiah Whaley each hit long shots of their own to bring it back to eight. Allen’s streak of consecutive makes snapped at seven and after Martin got on the scoresheet with a free-throw, the Huskies’ deficit was back to seven on a 9-2 run.

The Huskies continued to look better offensively and got within four points after a second flop warning resulting in a technical free throw with 12:28 remaining. That would be the closest Hurley’s team would come to re-taking the lead, which they last held at 16-15, until RJ Cole converted on a 3-pointer from the wing with 8:04 left, bringing his team back to within one.

Cole rebounded well from a first half that left a lot to be desired, grabbing 18 points on 6-11 shooting.

The 14-point comeback was completed with 5:08 to go, as Martin hit a pair of free-throws to tie the game, the first time proceedings were even since it was a 20-20 ballgame.

“We fight. I wouldn’t want to go to war without any one of those guys that were out there with me today, even the ones that didn’t get in the game,” Martin said.

However, the Huskies were never able to take the lead. UConn tied it a second time with 2:06 remaining, but Allen took over. The Aggies’ star had 15 of his 37 points in the final five minutes of the game, hitting nine free-throws and converting on both of his field-goal attempts.

UConn finishes with a 23-10 record, including 13-6 in Big East play, making consecutive conference tournament semifinals. The Huskies also made it to the NCAA Tournament for two straight years for the first time since 2011 and 2012.