One day over a few adult beverages or a generous dosage of truth serum, members of the NCAA men’s tournament selection committee might be able to let us know if they had a bit of a collective, devious smile upon bracketing No. 13 Iona just a few hours from campus in Albany against a fourth-seeded UConn eyeing another Final Four run.
The contest represented one of the must-see games of the first weekend of the Big Dance, pitting two analytics darlings against each other while layering on top of it the juicy storyline of Dan Hurley facing off against one of the best at this time of the year in Rick Pitino.
[Sources: St. John’s intends to hire Rick Pitino as coach]
Whatever the reasoning behind any such scheming for the matchup, the real thing lived up to the high billing on Friday evening as the Huskies notched an entertaining 87-63 victory over the Gaels.
Even the deceiving final margin wasn’t quite reflective of what transpired over the course of 40 minutes, an up-and-down-the-court masterpiece that was among the best games of the first round — especially in the first half. UConn, whose depth has been a hallmark of the program this season and a reason the Huskies sit fourth in the latest KenPom rankings, got contributions throughout the bench to allow Hurley’s side to eventually pull away late.
“We played well in the first half but they made a lot of shots,” Hurley told the broadcast after the game. “If you want to win this time of year, your big guns have to show up and play at a high level.”
That they did as the program won its first NCAA Tournament game seven years to the day of its last back in 2016.
Freshman Donovan Clingan was superb early on both ends of the court as the 7-foot-2 center blew past his season averages well before the midway mark and finished with 12 points and a rebound shy of a double-double. Turnovers and a handful of point-blank misses kept Iona up by one at halftime as it pushed the pace to try to negate the size advantage the Huskies had on just about every Clingan touch in the post.
That was all merely the opening act for teammate Adama Sanogo however, who emerged from the locker room to completely take over the contest and turn a nail-biter into a routine rout for the Huskies. The First Team All-Big East performer was borderline unstoppable on his way to a game-high 28 points and 13 rebounds – recording a double-double in the second half alone on 10-of-12 shooting before…
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