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 NCAA Tournament. .
The Huskies (26-8) advanced to play fifth-seeded Saint Mary’s in the Western Region on Sunday after losing in the first round under coach Dan Hurley the past two seasons.
Iona (27-8) had his 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 for 40 minutes.
Walter Clayton Jr. led the Gaels with 14 points.
Now the question is: what’s next for the Gaels’ Hall of Fame coach?
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Rick 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 the apparent favorite to land the two-time national champion.
UConn trailed by a point at the half, but clicked off halftime. A four-point play by Jordan Hawkins immediately gave the Huskies the lead, and then Sanogo went to work on the inside.
The 245-pound junior had a dunk, 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 really threatened again. Sanogo’s jumper from the baseline with 6:49 remaining made it 71-57, and the Huskies reached the second round for the first time since 2016.
Hawkins added 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 and increase the lead to 21. He also had 13 rebounds. . .
Pitino came in with a 54-20 NCAA record but without a tournament win since 2017, his last season at Louisville before he was fired amid the second NCAA scandal of his tenure.
Pitino was exonerated when the final ruling in that investigation was issued just before the start of this season, sparking speculation that bigger schools would call when Iona’s season ended.
During the middle, it seemed like it could be at least another few days.
The pace was fast and the play was crisp from the start, a first-round matchup that felt a bit like a regional final.
Pitino was elegant and active on the sidelines in his black suit and silver tie. And the Gaels were not afraid in the first half.
They pressured ball handlers and played at a pace that must have been familiar to Louisville and Kentucky fans rooting for Pitino’s best teams.
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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 last minute when he charged in to emphatically block Donovan Clingan (7-2). to keep score. Gaels in front, 39-37, at halftime.
UConn, however, had the final answer.
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Iona: The Gaels fell to 1-16 all-time in the tournament with their only win coming in 1980 under the late Jim Valvano against Holy Cross.
UConn: Hurley, in his fifth season at UConn, has the Huskies on the rise, with three straight NCAA Tournament bids after taking charge of a struggling national powerhouse. But they were unique in their first two trips to March Madness, and he was open about the pressure to advance this week.
UNTIL NEXT TIME
Iona: Maybe a new head coach?
UConn: The last time UConn made it to the round of 32, it lost to top-seeded Kansas in 2016.