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UConn men’s basketball falls to Marquette in Big East semifinals, 70-68

It was an instant classic, with two great teams trading punches, but the league’s top seed prevailed.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn men’s basketball will have to wait another year to add to its Big East championship collection.

The Huskies (25-8) lost in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament for the third straight year Friday night, dropping a tightly-contested game to top-seeded Marquette, 70-68, after Jordan Hawkins’ 3-point attempt at the buzzer from the top of the key landed wide of the mark.

Madison Square Garden was full and noisy from the opening tip-off. While UConn had a decisive advantage in fans in seats, there were still plenty of Golden Eagles fans.

The first half was a slugfest, featuring eight lead changes, four ties, and no lead larger than five. Marquette’s swarming defense prevented UConn from getting much going early on, but the Big East’s regular season champions started 3-5 from the field and held onto the lead early.

It was a balanced performance, but two of the Huskies’ stars were not clicking. Four players had five points or greater in the first half, led by Adama Sanogo, who finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Nahiem Alleyne (10 points) hit several timely shots and was 2-2 behind the arc to pace UConn, which was 5-11 from 3-point range in the initial 20 minutes, leading to 1.23 points per possession on 14-30 shooting.

But Shaka Smart’s offense was just as good. The Golden Eagles were 14-26 from the field and also nailed a quintet of triples.

This was partially due to foul trouble, as Andre Jackson picked up his second foul with 8:31 remaining and didn’t appear until after halftime, while Alex Karaban missed roughly five minutes after picking up his second with 5:31 to go. He came back in to hit a buzzer-beating three to make it a tied game at 38 going into the break.

The second half started poorly for UConn, as Dan Hurley took a timeout just 3:16 in after Marquette grabbed the game’s largest advantage to that point at six. Sanogo was hitting, but the rest of the team was 0-3, including a fifth miss from the night by Jordan Hawkins (five points).

Marquette’s lead got as high as 10 after David Joplin hit three free throws after being fouled behind the arc, but the Huskies began to claw back soon after.

The Golden Eagles missed eight straight from the field and in that span, UConn went on a 14-4 run. With 9:26 to go, Joey Calcaterra nailed a 3-pointer from the left wing to re-tie the game at 60.

Marquette always had an answer. Kam Jones hit a three to put MU right back ahead. Karaban put one back to tie the game at 64, but Chase Ross responded with another trey. Calcaterra missed a good look for three, but UConn made a stop on the other end before the two teams traded turnovers. Sanogo got a layup to get within one, but Marquette got another three and held on for good.

UConn’s final look came off a defensive rebound with 10 seconds left down two. The Huskies moved the ball around the perimeter but Hawkins’ highly contested shot had little chance, sailing short of the hoop to secure victory for Smart’s Golden Eagles.

Dan Hurley’s squad will now await its NCAA Tournament fate. The selection show begins at 6 p.m. on Sunday on CBS.