Men’s Basketball: Huskies take care of business with team effort in Big East quarterfinals

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In 1978, Ace Frehley, the guitarist for the rock band Kiss, released a song called “New York Groove” that became a big hit. The chorus of the song goes, “I’m back, back in the New York Groove.” Well, that should be the theme song for the UConn men’s basketball team after Thursday’s 94-60 win over DePaul. 

Playing in their first Big East Tournament game at Madison Square Garden since 2012, the Huskies (15-6) made a statement in their return, utilizing their entire roster to win in dominating fashion. Three different players scored 14 points to lead the Huskies: R.J. Cole, Adama Sanogo and Tyrese Martin. Martin also led the team with 10 rebounds for his second double-double of the season. 

“Right now, we’re just clicking on all cylinders,” Cole said after the game. “We have a lot of weapons. That’s our strong point. We have a lot of depth. We have a lot of scorers on our team, and right now we’re all stepping up.” 

Literally every player stepped up on Thursday night, as four different players scored in double figures and all 12 Huskies who checked in scored, even walk-on Andrew Hurley (head coach Dan Hurley’s son) who knocked down a 3-pointer for the first points of his career. 

UConn dominated DePaul (5-14) on the glass 53-32 and grabbed 24 offensive rebounds, which led to 19 more shot attempts than DePaul. That was a key difference, especially in portions of the game when the Huskies weren’t shooting extremely well. 

“We were tenacious on the glass,” Hurley said. “To dominate [DePaul] on the glass the way we did, the way they go after the ball, it’s a huge part of who we are. It’s a huge part of our identity. Defense and rebounding.” 

On the defensive end, UConn forced DePaul to play some really poor basketball. The Blue Demons turned the ball over 15 times and shot just 37%. 

The game was a little sloppy out of the gate, but UConn always seemed to have control. The Huskies went on multiple runs in the first half to keep the game out of reach from the Blue Demons, the last of which was a 9-0 run capped off by a Cole-to-James Bouknight alley-oop to put UConn up 38-20 with five minutes left in the first half. DePaul would score just two more points the rest of the half, and UConn went into halftime up 45-22. 

The second half started with a highlight reel 360 dunk from Martin, and that really set the tone for the rest of the game. The Huskies maintained their distance, and a true team effort resulted in a 34-point win in the Big East quarterfinals. UConn fans had been waiting for a night like Thursday for a long time. 

“We feel the excitement,” Hurley said. “Our fanbase is one of the best in the country, and we’re just happy that we’re giving them something to be excited about in March again. It’s been a while.” 

The one concerning part of the game for the Huskies was Bouknight being carried off the court into the locker room in the second half. But Hurley said it was just bad cramps and he should be ready to go for Friday’s game. 

Next up, the Huskies face their first real test of the tournament with the No. 2 seed Creighton Bluejays, who have already beaten UConn twice this season. But that doesn’t mean anything in March. 

“We’re a different team, we’re at full strength,” Martin said. “We’re probably one of the hottest teams in the country right now, so to beat us, you’re going to have to do a lot of things. I don’t think that a team right now is gonna do that.” 

Friday at 9 p.m. on FS1 in what will be UConn’s 14th ever appearance in the Big East semifinals, we will get to see if UConn is really back in its New York groove. 

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