No. 2 UConn beats No. 10 Marquette 73-57 to win 1st Big East Tournament title since 2011

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NEW YORK (AP) — UConn coach Dan Hurley climbed the ladder with “New York, New York” playing in Madison Square Garden — or as he calls it, “Storrs South.”

The New Jersey native clipped the last piece of net off the rim, let out a “Wooooo!” as he whirled it over his head and then tapped the Big East sign on the backboard before making his way back down.

Hurley and his defending national champions have eyes on even bigger prizes this March, but make no mistake, winning the Big East Tournament was a big deal for the Huskies.

Donovan Clingan had 22 points and a career-best 16 rebounds, Jaylin Stewart gave No. 2 UConn an unexpected boost with three second-half 3-pointers during a decisive surge and the Huskies beat No. 10 Marquette 73-57 on Saturday night to win the tournament for the first time since rejoining the conference four years ago.

“MSG, Big East Tournament, there's nothing like it,” Hurley said. “There's just no comparison anywhere to what this place is like.”

Tournament MVP Tristen Newton added 13 points and 10 assists as the top-seeded Huskies won their eighth title, matching Georgetown for the most in conference history. It was their first since 2011, when Kemba Walker led UConn to five wins in five days at The Garden — and then a national title.

Stewart, a freshman who was averaging 2.4 points off the bench, scored nine in about four minutes as UConn (31-3) pulled away from a gritty Marquette team playing without injured star Tyler Kolek (oblique) for a sixth straight game.

Kam Jones led the third-seeded Golden Eagles (25-9), the defending tournament champions, with 13 points, eight rebounds and four assists.

On a night when the Huskies struggled from the perimeter, they relied on the 7-foot-2 Clingan inside. The Connecticut native was 7 for 12 from the field and, as the final seconds ticked off the clock, the sophomore big man waved on hyped-up Huskies fans who packed the Midtown Manhattan arena.

“It means everything," Clingan said. "This was one of our goals at the beginning of the season, so to complete it means a lot.”

Two years after UConn's last Big East Tournament title the league broke up and the Huskies went with the football schools to form the American Athletic Conference, where they won another national championship in 2014 — and then fell off.

UConn returned to the Big East in 2020-21 and to national prominence. The Huskies won their fifth NCAA title last year, but the conference tournament championship had eluded Hurley's team. UConn hadn't even reached the final in its first three seasons back in the Big East.

Hurley rattled off all his team has accomplished in the last year as he accepted the trophy Saturday night and told the crowd: “But we ain't done yet.”

UConn improved to 8-3 in Big East finals, and 7-0 at MSG this season.

As usual, UConn fans packed The Garden and for the second straight night Marquette faced a road-game environment. The Golden Eagles overcame a raucous Providence crowd in a rugged semifinal Friday night.

“Today was rough for sure," said David Joplin, who had 12 points and six rebounds in the Golden Eagles' lowest-scoring game of the season by 12 points. “We’ve got a great team, and we’ve got a great chance to play well in the (NCAA) Tournament, and that’s all you need is a chance.”

Two of the country's best teams played one of the ugliest nine minutes of basketball imaginable to start the game.

At the second media timeout, the score was tied at 4 and the Golden Eagles and Huskies were a combined 3 for 22 from the floor. The defense was aggressive and physical, but it was also hard to keep track of just how many point-blank shots rolled off the rim.

Things picked up from there, and Newton swished a 3-pointer with three seconds left in the first half to give UConn a 26-24 lead at the break.

The shots started falling in the second half for both teams and UConn began asserting itself with about 10 minutes left, led by Stewart.

The Huskies went on a 19-5 run and led 60-44 with 5:54 remaining when Hassan Diarra made a corner 3.

“I thought we ran out of steam there probably in the last 10 minutes,” Marquette coach Shaka Smart said. “Donovan Clingan was the biggest difference.”

Stewart keyed UConn's surge with his long-range shooting. He came into the game just 6 for 30 from 3-point range on the season.

“Biggest shots of my life,” Stewart said. “It was electric in there.”

MISSING

Kolek, last season's Big East player of the year and tournament MVP, was relegated to the end of the bench, wearing a gray T-shirt and black joggers and coaching up his teammates during timeouts.

Smart has said all week the goal was to have Kolek ready to go for the NCAA Tournament. He also sat third-leading scorer Oso Ighodaro the last seven minutes of the game after Smart said the center "banged his knee."

RECORD BOOK

Clingan joined Georgetown great Patrick Ewing (1984) as the only players with at least 20 points and 15 rebounds in a Big East championship game. Newton and former Syracuse star Dwayne “Pearl” Washington (also 1984) are the lone players with double-digit assists in a Big East title game.

UP NEXT

The Huskies, who won the NCAA Tournament as a No. 4 seed last year, could be the No. 1 overall seed this year after both Houston and Purdue lost in their conference tournaments Saturday. UConn's road to the Final Four is all but certain to start back in New York City at Barclays Center in Brooklyn next weekend. The Huskies are trying to become the first repeat NCAA champions since Florida in 2007.

“We've been the best team in college basketball,” Hurley said. “Obviously, March Madness next week, who knows what goes on there, but we've clearly been the best program in the country this year.”

The Golden Eagles will land in the tournament likely as a No. 2 or No. 3 seed.

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball