Tyrese Martin scores all 17 points in second half to lead UConn men’s basketball over St. John’s

Photo of David Borges

NEW YORK — Tyrese Martin’s Sunday afternoon wasn’t going so super.

The UConn senior wing was hit with a technical foul early in the game, went scoreless in the first half and picked up his third foul 21/2 minutes into the second.

Even his long-awaited first basket of the game came with pain, banging his knee after scoring on a transition layup and leaving the game.

Fortunately for the UConn men’s basketball team, the injury wasn’t serious, he returned to the game and quickly made his presence felt.

Boy, did he ever.

Martin scored nine straight UConn points on a trio of 3-pointers during one second-half stretch, scored a huge putback with 20.4 seconds left to put UConn up four, and guarded Aaron Wheeler on his game-tying 3-point attempt at the buzzer, sealing the Huskies’ 63-60 win over St. John’s at Madison Square Garden.

“That’s what your best players have to do if you want to have a great year and win a lot of games in the best league in the country this year,” said coach Dan Hurley.

Martin finished with a game-high 17 points, along with eight rebounds, as the 24th-ranked Huskies improved to 17-7 overall, 8-5 Big East.

“Coach told me to make sure I came out being aggressive,” Martin said of his halftime conversation with Hurley. “He told me to let the game come to me, go out and attack. That’s what I did.”

He wasn’t the only one. Isaiah Whaley finished with 11 points, including a huge conventional 3-point play that put the Huskies up for good, 57-55, with 3:47 left, blocked five shots and did a good job stifling St. John’s leading scorer Julian Champagnie for much of the game.

“I wanted that match-up,” the 6-foot-9 grad forward said. “I was begging for it, basically. The first game, he had a really good game and I didn’t really guard him. This game, I really wanted to guard him and show why I did win Defensive Player of the Year last year, not just blocking shots but guarding players like that. That was really huge for my confidence, as well.”

Champagnie, who entered the game averaging 18.3 points per game, shot 6-for-16 for 13 points — most of them when Whaley wasn’t guarding him.

Martin’s putback on an R.J. Cole missed 3-pointer put UConn up 61-57 with 20.4 seconds left.

“I knew R.J. was taking that shot, as a senior player, the clock was winding down, so, I knew I was gonna put it back if he missed,” Martin reported. “I wanted to do whatever it took to win that game.”

Wheeler, a Stamford product, quickly countered with a 3-pointer to bring the Red Storm (13-11, 5-8) within a point. After a St. John’s timeout, Montez Mathis was called for a blocking foul on Cole, who nearly traveled and fell out of bounds on the play.

Cole, an 88.9 percent free throw shooter, calmly swished both ends of a 1-and-1 with 12.2 seconds left.

“When the ball is in my hands at the end of the game, I’m so confident,” Cole, the grad point guard, said. “Going to the line, I’m not really thinking about anything, because I know I’m going to make these free throws.”

St. John’s appeared to try to find Champagnie for a game-tying 3, but Wheeler was the best option, and his shot was just off the mark.

St. John’s played without sophomore guard Posh Alexander, who averages 14.9 ppg, leads the Big East in steals and shared the Big East co-Defensive Player of the Year award last season with Whaley. It was the second straight game Alexander missed due to an ankle injury.

“Thrilled with the win,” said Hurley. “We had to show a lot of resolve. Credit St. John’s, being down Posh, who’s one of the best players in the league. The way that they battled, credit Mike (Anderson) and St. John’s for playing so hard.”

It was the Huskies’ fourth game in eight days, the first three against ranked teams. Hurley felt his team was a bit fatigued on Sunday, and it showed — the Huskies shot 36 percent for the game and turned the ball over 15 times.

He said that the team had a “blistering video session” on Saturday, then turned the page. The players had a team meal together Saturday evening to discuss finding a way to finish the week, according to Hurley.

“We had a chance to have a great week, if we win all three,” the coach added. “We beat Marquette, lose a close one at Xavier, then winning one (Sunday). Two out of three in the Big East, you’ll take it. Good week, not a great week.”

The Huskies swatted away 13 shots, grabbed 52 rebounds and held the Red Storm to 1-for-10 shooting and three points over the final two minutes.

Whaley helped pick up the slack for Adama Sanogo, who jumped out and scored UConn’s first six points, but for the second straight game, picked up an early foul (this one just under 10 minutes before halftime) and sat out the rest of the period.

“I keep telling him, ‘Stop fouling,’ because we need him out there,” Whaley said with a smile. “I’m always prepared, I try to keep myself ready in case that happens, try to be good for the team.”

Sanogo scored just two more points the rest of the way, but came up with a huge block on Dylan Addae-Wusu with 52 seconds left and the Huskies clinging to a two-point lead.

“Adama had a bad game, from an offensive standpoint, really struggled — but then a huge block,” Hurley noted. “That’s a winning play. And we haven’t been doing that.”

Cole finished with 14 points and sophomore Andre Jackson tore down a career-high 16 rebounds.

But, as Hurley summed up: “This was Isaiah, and this was Tyrese, and this was R.J. making clutch free throws and being cold-blooded.”

“We had to win ugly,” Whaley added, “especially with our shots not really going in, the offense not going the way we wanted it to. We had to gut it out. There are points in the season, you just have to fight for games. And that was one of them.”


  Former UConn star Jeremy Lamb, who’s now with the Sacramento Kings, was at the game and chatted with Hurley outside the Huskies’ locker room after the game.

  Asked for his Super Bowl prediction afterwards, Cole said: “I feel like, since Coach Hurley’s my coach, I’ve got to say the Bengals. But I really want to say the Rams, because I like OBJ.”

Hurley is a renowned Bengals fan.