Martin’s big 2nd half leads No. 24 UConn past St. John’s

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK- Tyrese Martin scored all 17 of his points in the second half and No. 24 Connecticut rallied past St. John’s 63-60 on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.

R.J. Cole added 14 points and Andre Jackson grabbed 16 rebounds to help the weary Huskies (17-7, 8-5 Big East) win despite shooting only 36% from the field. They swept the season series from St. John’s and moved into sole possession of third place in the conference standings behind Villanova and first-place Providence.

Montez Mathis had 14 points off the bench to spark the Red Storm (13-11, 5-8), who played without Posh Alexander for the second consecutive game. The star point guard, last season’s Big East freshman of the year, is sidelined with a sprained ankle.

Julian Champagnie and Aaron Wheeler each had 13 points for St. John’s. Dylan Addae-Wusu scored all 12 of his points in the first half.

Cheers for both schools echoed back and forth around Madison Square Garden coming down the stretch.

Left out of the starting lineup for the first time all season, Mathis scored six points in an 11-0 run for St. John’s that was capped by Stef Smith’s 3-pointer with 7:46 remaining. That gave the Red Storm a 55-48 lead – the largest for either team.

But the Huskies responded immediately with an 11-0 surge of their own. Isaiah Whaley was fouled on a putback and converted the three-point play to put UConn back in front with 3:46 left. Adama Sanogo banked in a shot off a pass from Cole to extend UConn’s lead to 59-55 with 2:19 to go.

A drive by Mathis with 2:10 left ended the Red Storm’s scoring drought at 5:36, but he missed a free throw that could have made it a three-point play.

Champagnie missed the front end of a 1-and-1, and Martin scored on a putback to make it 61-57 with 20.6 seconds left.

Wheeler drained a 3 with 14.3 seconds remaining to cut the margin to one before Cole sank two free throws to make it 63-60.

Guarded closely on the right wing, Wheeler missed a 3 just before the final horn that could have tied it.

BIG PICTURE

UConn: It was the second road game in 41 hours for Connecticut, capping a rugged stretch of three games in six days and four in nine – three away from home. The Huskies are still looking to hit their stride and really get on a roll. But they have the talent to be dangerous in March – they beat Auburn in double overtime on a neutral floor in November before the Tigers ascended to No. 1 in the nation.

St. John’s: Dropped to 0-6 against Top 25 teams in a frustrating season that was expected to yield more success. St. John’s went 1-4 in five regular-season games at Madison Square Garden, with the only win coming against last-place Georgetown.

WATCH WHAT YOU SAY

The Big East issued a statement Saturday night scolding UConn coach Dan Hurley for criticizing some of the officiating in Friday night’s loss at Xavier.

Hurley said certain calls were “brutal” and “a joke.”

“Big East sportsmanship rules prohibit our coaches from public criticism of our game officials,” the release read. “We have established protocols in place for feedback by our schools regarding any officiating matter, and while we understand that tensions run high during the season, we expect these protocols to be honored.”

LINEUP CARD

UConn forward Akok Akok missed his fourth straight game with a tendon injury in his foot. He is day-to-day, the team said. … Mathis, who shot 1 for 14 in Tuesday’s loss to No. 15 Villanova, was replaced in the starting lineup by Smith.

UP NEXT

UConn: Returns home to face Seton Hall (15-8, 6-7) on Wednesday night. The Huskies lost 90-87 in overtime at then-No. 24 Seton Hall on Jan. 8 despite 18 points and 16 rebounds from Sanogo.

St. John’s: Plays at No. 25 Xavier (17-7, 7-6) on Wednesday night, the first of two meetings in two weeks. The Musketeers snapped a two-game skid Friday night with their 74-68 win over UConn.