Adama Sanogo scored 10 of his 28 points in the first five minutes of the second half as fourth-seeded UConn took control and beat Rick Pitino’s Iona Gaels 87-63 on Friday in the first round of the Tournament of the NCAA.
The Huskies (26-8) advanced to play fifth-seeded Saint Mary’s Sunday in the West Region after losing in the first round under coach Dan Hurley the past two seasons.
Iona (27-8) had its 14-game winning streak snapped as the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champion didn’t have the depth to keep up with one of the Big East’s best through 40 minutes.
Walter Clayton Jr. led the Gaels with 14 points.
Now the question is: What will the next Gaels Hall of Fame coach be?
Pitino was coaching in his 24th NCAA Tournament and perhaps his last with Iona. The 70-year-old appears to be in line for another high-profile job, with St. John’s as the apparent favorite to land the two-time national champion.
UConn trailed by a point at the half, but came out of the break clicking. A four-point play by Jordan Hawkins immediately gave the Huskies the lead and then Sanogo went to work inside.
The 245-pound junior had a kill, a hook, a pair of layups and two free throws, scoring 10 of the Huskies’ next 13 points as they took a 54-43 lead.
The Gaels never threatened again. Sanogo’s layup jumper from the baseline with 6:49 left made it 71-57 and the Huskies advanced to the second round for the first time since 2016.
Hawkins had 13 points, all in the second half, and Sanogo capped his 13-for-17 shooting performance with a long-range jumper to beat the shot clock with 3:05 left to make it 21. Also had 13 rebounds. .
Pitino entered with a 54-20 NCAA record but without a tournament win since 2017, his final season at Louisville before being fired amid the second NCAA scandal of his tenure.
Pitino was exonerated when the final ruling in that investigation was handed down just before the start of this season, prompting speculation that bigger schools would come calling when Iona’s season ended.
For half, it looked like it might be at least a few more days.
The pace was fast and the play sharp from the start, a first-round matchup that felt a bit like a regional final.
Pitino was dapper and active on the sidelines in his black suit and silver tie. And the Gaels had no fear in the first half.
They pressured ball handlers and played at a pace that should feel familiar to Louisville and Kentucky fans who rooted for Pitino’s best teams.
Berrick JeanLouis made his first two 3-point attempts and scored 11 in the first half for the Gaels.
Neither team led by more than four in the first 20 minutes and Iona’s 6-foot-3 Daniss Jenkins seemed to send a message in the final minute when he dived in for an emphatic block at 7-2 Donovan Clingan to keep the Gaels. ahead, 39-37 at halftime.
UConn, however, had the final answer.
Report from The Associated Press.
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