NEW YORK – Alex Karaban always had an answer.
The redshirt sophomore scored six consecutive points for the UConn men after No. 15 Texas cut the lead to just six in the last five minutes of Monday’s Empire Classic championship game. Karaban, who finished with a team-high 20 points, pulled up for a midrange jumper with about a minute left that served as the dagger in what was an 81-71 win.
The fifth-ranked Huskies, now 5-0, secured the program’s 11th overall tournament win of any kind inside Madison Square Garden and its first since the 2013 2k Sports Classic, when Shabazz Napier went off for 27 points to beat Indiana.
It was one of those starts where just about everything was going right for the Huskies. When a play was disrupted and the shot clock wound down, the ball found Karaban in the corner for a 3-pointer that beat the buzzer. When Cam Spencer missed his first shot attempt of the game, Solo Ball soared in and slammed the putback home.
UConn made 9 of its first 12 shots from the field and was 4 of 5 from 3-point range to build a dominant, 24-11, lead eight minutes into the first half.
After combining for just four points in Sunday’s win over Indiana, UConn’s veteran duo of Samson Johnson and Hassan Diarra were the difference off the bench as starters Tristen Newton, Spencer and Donovan Clingan struggled to get going.
Johnson finished with a career-high 15 points with eight rebounds and two blocks, while Diarra had eight and six boards, with two blocks of his own.
The Longhorns, thanks to 21 points from Dillon Mitchell and 50% shooting in the second half, cut UConn’s lead, once as many as 16, down to just four before Karaban stepped up with a pair of big-time shots to hold onto the lead. The redshirt sophomore had 12 points in the second half.
Newton was named MVP of the in-season tournament after starring with a 23-point double-double in Sunday’s win over Indiana. He had eight points on Monday with four rebounds and eight assists. Spencer added 16 with five rebounds and five assists.
The UConn men are now 71-60 all-time at MSG and 8-6 under Hurley.
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