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No. 15 UConn men’s basketball blows double-digit lead at Seton Hall

The Huskies had a 14-point halftime lead but squandered it with 12 turnovers and multiple scoring droughts in the second half.

NCAA Basketball: Connecticut at Seton Hall Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Despite holding a lead as large as 17 points, No. 15 UConn men’s basketball lost to Seton Hall on Wednesday night, 67-66. The loss came without head coach Dan Hurley and associate head coach Kimani Young, who both tested positive for COVID-19.

UConn led for 39:20 and didn’t lose the lead until the game had just 1:06 to go. The Huskies made their last field goal with 6:51 remaining and scored just four points in those final minutes. The Huskies also committed 12 second-half turnovers.

“I thought I did a poor job in the second half of coaching the guys, offensively in particular,” acting head coach Luke Murray said. “We knew that Seton Hall was going to pick up the pressure in the second half and they did. We didn’t do a good job handling it.”

The sets weren’t always the cleanest, but a pair of Jordan Hawkins 3-pointers and two more baskets in close by Adama Sanogo, who added 16 points and five rebounds, helped the Huskies jump out to a 10-2 lead. The visitors made four of their first six field goals but went cold through much of the middle stages of the first half, making just six of the next 16 shots.

This let Seton Hall get back into it. The Pirates’ defense, ranked No. 18 in efficiency according to KenPom, settled in and the Huskies got more tentative. Seton Hall got to within one possession, trailing by three points with 8:55 to go after a Jamir Harris free throw.

In response, UConn began to run after misses by Seton Hall, which never made more than two straight shots and had a 37.0 field goal percentage, leading to open looks and a better, more aggressive offensive flow.

The hosts brought it to four after Femi Odukale hit one of two free throws before the Huskies truly asserted themselves. Donovan Clingan got three points the old-fashioned way, which sparked an 11-0 burst over just 1:37 as UConn ended the half on a 17-7 run, capped off by a Hawkins 3-pointer, one of three on the night in his 13-point effort. The Huskies took a 40-26 lead into halftime.

The second half couldn’t have started worse for the Huskies. KC Ndefko started with an and-one and Tristen Newton over-dribbled, permitting Al-Amir Dawes to grab a steal as he scored four points in just 12 seconds. After Hawkins silenced the crowd with a bucket, Dawes drilled a 3-pointer to push the deficit to eight. All told, UConn committed three turnovers in the first five minutes of the half after six in the initial 20 minutes.

Just a few minutes later, KC Ndeko put Andre Jackson on a poster on the fast break and Seton Hall was down just three points, forcing UConn to call a timeout with 14:14 remaining. The Pirates started the half on a 19-8 run until the break in the action.

“They jumped us,” Hawkins said.

Seton Hall missed its first five shots after the time-out, but it didn’t do anything to help spark UConn’s offense. The Huskies went 0-for-6 and nearly five minutes without scoring between a Hawkins basket with 16:44 to go and a technical foul on Seton Hall coach Shaheen Holloway with 11:47 left. UConn wouldn’t make a field goal for another 1:37 and had three more attempts before Andre Jackson threw up a 3-pointer with a shrinking shot clock.

Though Seton Hall got within one, the Huskies held a precarious lead that never exceeded seven points in the second half. The hosts had momentum and the crowd behind them, and with just over one minute to go, they broke through.

With the Huskies up by one, Adama Sanogo missed an absolute bunny and Kadary Richmond hit a jumper to push his team in front for the first time. Though Tristen Newton hit a pair of free throws to temporarily get the lead back, Seton Hall had the ball back with 15 seconds left. After a Femi Odukale miss on the first shot, Ndefko out-muscled Sanogo in the final seconds to make the game-winner.

Ndefko finished with 14 points while Richardson led all scorers with 18. Seton Hall committed just nine turnovers to UConn’s 18 but didn’t shoot better than UConn from the floor, behind the arc, or the free-throw line. Turnovers and their own incompetence did the Huskies in.

UConn (15-5, 4-5 Big East) has now lost five of six and needs to badly regroup. Next, they’re hosting Butler on Sunday. Tip-off from the XL Center is on Sunday at 12 p.m. with TV coverage on FOX.