Connecticut dominates Marquette from start at XL Center to knock 10th-ranked Golden Eagles from first place in Big East

Marquette guard Stevie Mitchell puts up a shot underneath the basket against UConn guardJordan Hawkins during the first half Tuesday night.
Marquette guard Stevie Mitchell puts up a shot underneath the basket against UConn guardJordan Hawkins during the first half Tuesday night.

HARTFORD, Conn. – On Monday, the Marquette men’s basketball team entered the top 10 of both the Associated Press and USA Today coaches polls for the first time since the 2018-19 season.

On Tuesday, the Golden Eagles had their worst performance of the season.

Connecticut jumped on MU early and didn’t let up while cruising to an 87-72 victory in front of 15,564 fired-up fans at the XL Center.

BOX SCORE: UConn 87, Marquette 72

The Golden Eagles (19-6, 11-3 Big East) fell from a tie with Xavier atop the conference standings. The No. 21 Huskies (19-6, 8-6) avenged their 82-76 loss on Jan. 11 at Fiserv Forum. MU's five previous losses had come by five points or fewer.

“Not a lot of teams come in here and win tonight the way that UConn was,” MU head coach Shaka Smart said. “In my opinion, they played just like they were playing when they were 14-0 and No. 2 in the country.

“On our side we didn’t do enough all-around – offensively, defensively – to stand up and counteract them.”

Huskies get hot start Jordan Hawkins, triple-double from Tristen Newton

It wasn’t MU’s night from the start. On its first defensive possession, the Golden Eagles played tight defense but the Huskies’ Jordan Hawkins drained a three-pointer before the shot clock expired.

By the time Connecticut’s Andre Jackson threw down an alley-oop dunk for a 7-2 lead, the crowd was juiced up and the home team was locked in.

The Huskies pushed the advantage to 17-4 and Smart called a timeout. But that didn’t settle down the Golden Eagles and they soon were staring down a 32-12 deficit and the game was essentially over.

“I think UConn was certainly the aggressor,” Smart said. “Any time that you beat a team at your place and then you got to go back to their place, you got to be ready for them to be very, very hungry for payback.

“They were the aggressor. I thought we guarded really, really well that whole first possession and then Hawkins made a heck of a shot. We probably could have contested it better. Playing teams like this, they’re going to create certain challenges, certain problems. And as a group, we got to come together to find a way to solve those. Didn’t do enough of that today."

Nothing much went right for MU. Kam Jones and Oso Ighodaro each picked up two early fouls. Connecticut didn’t seem to be missing and when the Huskies did they were seemingly grabbing the offensive board and putting it back in.

Hawkins finished with 20 points and Tristen Newton notched his second triple-double of the season for UConn with 12 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds.

Oso Ighodaro is neutralized and Golden Eagles have just seven assists

Ighodaro had just three points, one rebound and one assist in 24 minutes.

“Brute force,” Smart said of how the Huskies neutralized one of MU’s top players. “In this league, I take my hat of to the officials because it is hard to officiate this league.

“It’s really, really challenging in that there’s a lot of physicality out there. And I think they do a good job of letting teams play. From our standpoint, we’re not going to win a Mr. Universe contest against UConn, alright? They go out there and demonstrate their physiques that they have, they’re probably going to beat us in that. So I think the physicality and aggressiveness affected Oso.”

The Golden Eagles’ offense was completely out of sorts, finishing with a season-low seven assists. They had nine assists in losses against Mississippi State and Providence.

Meanwhile, the Huskies had things rolling so much that Nahiem Alleyne banked in a half-court shot right before halftime for a 46-29 lead.

“Defensively they did a good job changing up pick-and-roll coverages based off of personnel,” Smart said. “They were aggressive against Kam Jones. They tried not to get into too much help on Tyler Kolek.”

Adama Sanogo and Donovan Clingan too big for Marquette’s frontcourt

The Huskies’ size was too much for the Golden Eagles, with 6-foot-9 behemoth Adama Sanogo and 7-2 freshman Donovan Clingan.

Connecticut had 21 offensive rebounds, including seven from Clingan, and scored 27 second-chance points.

“It’s hard to battle with guys that are that size,” MU’s 6-foot-11 freshman Ben Gold said.  “I was just trying to get lower than them.”

Gold provided MU’s only silver lining in the first half with 10 points in six minutes. He only scored two points in the second half, but after a strong defensive performance in MU’s previous game against Butler, the New Zealand native is adapting to college basketball.

“It’s just stacking consecutive days on top of each other,” Gold said. “We had that game and then two days practice before this that I was consistently trying to be good those two days so I could build up the trust that coach can continue to put me in in those moments.

“From there you see the playing time gradually move. Which is good.”

MU also got back 5-11 freshman guard Sean Jones, who sat out three games with a right wrist injury. He was attacking the basket and tied a season high with 11 points.

“They probably played better than anybody on our team,” Smart said of Gold and Jones. “You’ve got two freshmen coming into this environment playing with real poise and aggressiveness.

“I thought Sean’s ability to get in the paint was huge. Ben’s ability to make threes ... and then on one possession he brought a guy out on him and was able to pop and then drove the ball. Ben probably should have played more. Because against a team that’s in that type of coverage that’s about the best antidote.”

Golden Eagles will look to bounce back in next game against Georgetown

After flying high with their lofty rankings, the Golden Eagles crashed hard.

“The rankings mean nothing,” Smart said. “It’s amazing the disparity, no disrespect to anyone in here, to what the rankings mean to media and fans in the middle of a season and what it means to players and coaches.

“It doesn’t mean anything. UConn was No. 2. We’re No. 10. Now we’re not going to be No. 10. So, who cares? They’re a really good team on their home floor.

“Our guys confidence? To me, confidence comes from lived experience. And now we’ve got 25 games worth of that. To be one of the younger teams in this league, I think our guys have stepped forward and grown a great deal. But there’s no reason you should walk out of here with your head down after losing to UConn. Because they played at the level they were playing at when they were No. 2 in the country.”

MU will face Georgetown on Saturday in Washington before a key rematch Xavier on Feb. 15 at Fiserv Forum.

“It’s just getting ready for the next game and kind of throwing this one out and focusing on the next one,” Gold said. “And just taking out our frustrations, everything that happened in this game, and taking it out on Georgetown.”

It was a night to forget for the Golden Eagles. Tyler Kolek led MU with 17 points.

RELATED: Tyler Kolek second in nation in assists for Marquette basketball

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Slow start dooms Marquette in blowout loss to Connecticut