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No. 5 UConn men’s basketball cruises to 81-71 win over No. 15 Texas

Alex Karaban and Samson Johnson helped the Huskies avoid a late scare from the Longhorns and win the Empire Classic.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

No. 5 UConn men’s basketball survived a late scare from the No. 15 Texas Longhorns to take home the Empire Classic title on Monday night. Alex Karaban scored six of his team-high 20 points in the final 4:23 to help the Huskies earn a 81-71 victory at Madison Square Garden. UConn has now won 22 straight games in non-conference play by 10 points or more.

The Huskies picked up right where it left off after Sunday’s 20-point win over Indiana, jumping out to a nine-point lead within the first five minutes. UConn would grow the lead to 13 at the under-12 timeout after a Hassan Diarra block of Max Abmas led to a deep transition 3-pointer from Karaban to make it 24-11.

Between the trio of Karaban, Samson Johnson and Cam Spencer, the Huskies (5-0) took the driver’s seat early and never wavered in the first half. Spencer played just eight minutes in the first due to foul trouble, but still managed to score seven points. With 6-foot-11 big man Kadin Shedrick out due to injury for Texas, Johnson terrorized the Longhorns with 11 first half points on his way to 15 points and eight rebounds in the game — by far his best game ever as a Husky.

Johnson and Hassan Diarra paced the Huskies for the rest of the first half, with the duo combining for 13 of the team’s final 19 points of the first half to head into the locker room with a 13-point lead after the first 20 minutes. After a strong showing against IU, Diarra once again put together a quality performance in his home state, finishing with eight points, six rebounds and two steals in 28 minutes.

After the intermission, the Longhorns clawed back and cut the lead to six points just under five minutes in before UConn answered with a Diarra layup and Tristen Newton floater as part of a 9-1 Huskies run.

Texas made one last push with seven minutes to play, ripping off a 10-0 run on the backs of Tyrese Hunter and Ithiel Horton to make it 71-67 with 5:24 left to play. Then, Karaban took over.

The sophomore hit UConn’s final three shots from the field, including two tough midrange jumpers to beat the shot clock, to put the nail in the coffin for any Texas comeback effort. Spencer iced the game with four-straight made free throws to secure the Empire Classic title and give him 16 points with five assists and five rebounds on the night.

Fresh off a 23-point performance against IU, Newton took some time to get going but still finished with eight points and eight assists. Standout sophomore Donovan Clingan added seven points and two rebounds, playing 13 minutes after playing a career-high 30 minutes against the Hoosiers. Texas’ Dillo Mitchell led all scorers with 21 points on 9-12 while star transfer Max Abmas was largely held in check by the combo of Spencer and Diarra, scoring just 10 points.

With the Empire Classic title secured, UConn will be off through Thanksgiving before returning to take on Manhattan Friday, November 24 at the XL Center in Hartford. Tip off is set for 2:00 p.m.