‘Crazy trio’ leads No. 24 UConn men’s basketball team to win over Seton Hall

Photo of David Borges
UConn’s Adama Sanogo is guarded by Seton Hall's Alexis Yetna (10) on Wednesday at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs.

UConn’s Adama Sanogo is guarded by Seton Hall's Alexis Yetna (10) on Wednesday at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs.

Jessica Hill / Associated Press

STORRS — Adama Sanogo was once about two weeks away from committing to Seton Hall.

He’s spent the past two seasons torturing the Pirates.

Sanogo notched a double-double Wednesday night with 20 points and 16 rebounds, leading the UConn men’s basketball team past Seton Hall 70-65 before a Gampel Pavilion sellout.

It was Sanogo’s sixth double-double of the season, but he wasn’t alone, as Tyrese Martin finished with 16 points and 10 boards for his fourth double-double. R.J. Cole wasn’t part of that club on Wednesday, but he did finish with 16 points, despite suffering a hip injury in the first half, while also drawing his 18th charge of the season.

Indeed, this was one where the 24th-ranked Huskies’ “Big Three” of Cole, Sanogo and Martin — the team’s three leading scorers, by a lot — led the way, improving the team to 18-7 overall, 9-5 in the Big East.

“When you have three guys playing at an all-conference level in a game, or throughout the season,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said, “you can have a great season, and we have a good chance of winning. Adama, R.J. and Tyrese played like all-conference guys (Wednesday).”

Sanogo, a 6-foot-9 sophomore center from Mali who played high school ball at the Patrick School in Hillside, N.J., had told his high school coach back in April 2020 that he was set to commit to hometown Seton Hall.

Hurley and staff soon persuaded Sanogo to do otherwise. Last season, Sanogo scored a season-high 16 points in a key, March win over the Pirates in Newark.

On Jan. 8, Sanogo notched a double-double (18 points, 16 boards) in an overtime loss to the Hall in Newark. On Wednesday night, Sanogo seemingly could have scored about 30, missing several close-range shots, but was dominant all the same.

Perhaps most importantly, he stayed out of foul trouble. Two quick fouls within the first 10 minutes of the first half in each of the Huskies’ last two games severely limited Sanogo’s production in both.

“I used my hands less, because the last two games I was using my hands to defend people,” Sanogo said. “I wanted to play defense without using my hands. That was my mindset coming into the game.”

Conversely, Seton Hall 7-footer Ike Obiagu and guard Myles Cale each picked up three first-half fouls. The Pirates wound up with four different players with four fouls and committed 20 fouls as a team, compared to just nine by UConn.

Other than a short stretch in the first half when Seton Hall hit six straight shots — four of them 3-pointers — and a few individual breakdowns in the latter half, UConn’s defense was stout.

“That’s what we are, a defensive team first,” Martin said. “That’s where we set the tone, with defensie and rebounding. When we’re doing that at a high level, it’s hard to beat us. Then when we add the offense in the second half, it gets really hard to beat us. We’re a defense-first team.”

UConn outrebounded the Pirates 41-31 and blocked six shots.

“When we take a defense-first mentality and try to eat glass, just try to crush the glass,” Hurley said, “we’re incredibly hard to beat.”

Despite hitting just 1 of 10 3-pointers, UConn owned a 28-27 lead at the half behind Sanogo’s 12 points. The Hall didn’t shoot much better, misfiring on 10 of its first 11 shots and all four of its 3s. But the Pirates got hot late in the half, hitting those six straight shots at one point to take a brief 27-24 lead.

The Huskies hit their first three 3-pointers of the second half and never looked back. They led by 10 with just over a minute to go before missing the front ends of three straight 1-and-1s. That allowed the Pirates (15-9, 6-8 Big East) to make the score a little more respectable.

“That wasn’t fun, the front-end misses there,” Hurley said. “That makes for a more eventful ending. It’s probably one we should have won by 10 or 12. But yeah, we’re tough. We’ve got culture here, tough players and tough-minded people. You can’t do basketball at UConn without being tough.”

And it’s certainly tough to beat UConn when R.J. Cole, Adama Sanogo and Tyrese Martin are on their respective games.

“I think it’s pretty simple, honestly,” Cole said. “The ball’s going inside to Adama, I made my plays on offense, getting people involved, and ’Rese is like everything out there. He finds ways to score and he hits the glass. We have good balance. No egos, we all know what we’re capable of, and when we do that together, I think we’re a pretty crazy trio.”

RIM RATTLINGS

 Marc D’Amelio, a 1991 UConn graduate and former Norwalk resident, was at the game with his wife Heidi, and daughters Charli and Dixie. Charli has emerged as the “face of TikTok,” with millions of followers on various social-media outlets.

Indeed, it was TikTok night at Gampel.

 Also at the game: former UConn forward Tyler Olander, he of one more national championship ring than Jim Boeheim, as well as Bristol Central 7-footer Donovan Clingan, a 2022 UConn commit.

And, the Wagner men’s basketball team (which plays at Sacred Heart tomorrow night) was in the building. Hurley coached the Seahawks a decade ago and is still tight with coach Bashir Mason, whom Hurley once coached in high school.

“They’re crushing it this year,”Hurley said of the 17-3 Seahawks. “Mase is an unbelievable coach. A.D.’s in search firms, I hope you’re paying attention. The guy’s unbelievable.”

david.borges@hearstmediact.com