Connecticut 83, Seton Hall 70
NEW YORK (AP)—Ben Gordon took care of things for Connecticut when the game got close, and Emeka Okafor handled matters underneath.
They made sure Connecticut extended its Big East tournament quarterfinal winning streak to eight games with an 83-70 victory over Seton Hall on Thursday night.
Gordon, a sophomore guard, had 25 points and three big plays when the Pirates made their only run of the second half.
Okafor, a sophomore center, had 11 points and 18 rebounds for Connecticut (20-8), which moved a step closer to defending its conference title.
“It was a good performance but it needed to be a tighter performance,” coach Jim Calhoun said. “It has to be much tighter and sharper. We’ve got to cut down on mistakes like 17 turnovers, but overall I’m happy.”
The Huskies will play No. 11 Syracuse (24-4), which beat Georgetown 74-69 in Friday night’s semifinals at Madison Square Garden.
Connecticut beat the Orangemen 75-61 in their only meeting this season, one of the five games Calhoun missed for prostate surgery.
“I missed that one,” he said. “I was in a bed sweating a lot more than I would have if I were there.”
The Huskies were in control throughout, but the Pirates (17-12) took advantage of an offensive slump to get to 51-45 on a basket by J.R. Morris with 11:21 left.
Gordon made a nice spin move to get himself open and hit a 3-pointer with 11:03 left to make it 54-45. Morris and Andre Sweet then scored around a Connecticut turnover to make it 54-49 with 9:53 to play.
Gordon found Mike Hayes with a quick pass underneath for a three-point play, then hit a 3 with 9:01 left to make it 60-49. Seton Hall would only get as close as nine points one more time.
“It’s just a sense of urgency you get, you don’t even realize, it just flows,” Gordon said. “I didn’t even know I made those three plays.
“You just get that sense of urgency and try to make things happen.”
Tony Robertson had 14 points for the Huskies, who finished with a 50-35 advantage on the boards. Hayes, a reserve forward, had 13 points on 5-for-5 shooting.
It was Okafor who set the rebounding tone. He also blocked four shots and altered quite a few others.
“I had to do something to make up for being 1-for-50 from the free throw line,” said Okafor—actually 1-for-6. “I just tried to grab every missed shot.”
Calhoun has seen it before
“He just takes the paint away,” the coach said of the 6-foot-9 Okafor.
John Allen had 18 points for Seton Hall, which won 10 of its last 13 games and has compiled a record solid enough to qualify for an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament. But the Pirates will have to wait until Sunday to find out.
“The Big East deserves six teams,” Seton Hall coach Louis Orr said. “Top to bottom this is the most competitive league, we beat each other up. I’m staying prayerfully optimistic.”
Kelly Whitney added 14 points for Seton Hall, while Andre Barrett had 13 points and seven assists.
“We had to have our `A’ game to beat this team,” Orr said. “We did cut it to five but we didn’t play as well as we needed to to beat a team like Connecticut.”
Connecticut reached the 20-win mark for the 14th time in Calhoun’s 17 seasons there.
The win by the Huskies, who lost two of their last three, meant the four top-seeded teams in the tournament reached the semifinals for the third time in five years.
The other semifinal will have No. 5 Pittsburgh against Boston College.
In addition to winning their last eight quarterfinal-round games, the Huskies, five-time champions, have won 13 of their last 15 tournament games.