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UConn men beat Seton Hall 91-61, clinch first outright Big East regular-season title in 25 years

Joe Arruda, Hartford Courant on

Published in Basketball

STORRS, Conn. – The UConn men’s basketball team cut down the nets in Gampel Pavilion after its 91-61 win over Seton Hall clinched the program’s first outright Big East regular-season title since the 1998-99 season.

UConn, ranked third in the nation and 16-0 at home this year, finished its first undefeated season at both Gampel Pavilion and the XL Center for the first time in 18 years.

“We’re not done yet,” Hassan Diarra said in his championship t-shirt after the game as the Huskies were presented the regular season trophy with blue and white streamers falling at center court. “This is the first of three,” said Donovan Clingan, shifting sights toward the Big East and NCAA tournaments.

Freshman Stephon Castle, playing in what was likely his final home game, showed why he’s a projected NBA lottery pick as he led four Huskies in double figure scoring with 21 points on 9 of 12 shooting. He finished one of his best games of the year with four rebounds, three assists and two steals. Clingan, another potential lottery pick as a sophomore, had 19 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks for his third double-double of the year.

Tristen Newton, honored in the Senior Day ceremony before the game, had 17 points and 10 assists, his ninth double-double of the season, and Alex Karaban tacked on 13 points, four rebounds and a block.

The runaway favorite for Big East Freshman of the Year, Castle got the Huskies going with two dunks and a handful of hustle plays in the first half, all while holding Seton Hall’s Kadary Richmond to just 1 of 8 shooting from the field. Castle picked off a pass along the perimeter and slammed his second dunk in transition, putting the Huskies up five around the eight-minute mark, and drew a charge in front of the UConn bench two defensive possessions later with Dan Hurley sprinting over to help him up.

Clingan, Karaban and Newton helped extend the lead, and Samson Johnson, who had five points in six first-half minutes, pushed it to 12 with a second-chance dunk in transition. Castle finished through a foul to get up to a team-high 11 first-half points and Karaban pushed UConn’s lead to 15 with a layup just before the break.

 

UConn (26-3, 16-2 Big East) shot 50% from the field in the opening period despite its 1 of 8 mark from beyond the arc. The Huskies had five blocks at the break, three from Clingan, and held the Pirates – who shot 51.8% from the field when they took down the Huskies in December – to just 35.7%.

Karaban and Newton each made 3-pointers early after the break and Newton landed another a few minutes later, his third of the game, to put UConn ahead 58-36 just four minutes into the second half.

Cam Spencer, who was scoreless with just one shot attempt through the game’s first 27 minutes, made a turnaround jumper and sent the Gampel crowd into a frenzy with a transition 3-pointer seconds later. The Huskies continued their scoring run as Castle banked in a jumper and Newton hit another 3. Castle came up with another steal and punctuated it with powerful tomahawk dunk to make the lead 27.

Each of the Huskies’ starters exited the game to a standing ovation with about five minutes to go as Hurley emptied the bench. His son Andrew, a senior, got the crowd going as his free throw put UConn up 30 with 38 seconds left; he stamped a kiss on the center court Husky logo on his way back down the court.

UConn is set to finish out the regular season with two games on the road at Marquette Wednesday (FS1, 8:30 p.m.) and in Providence Saturday night.


©2024 Hartford Courant. Visit courant.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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