No. 21 UConn runs past DePaul
Huskies win first Big East tournament game in six years
NEW YORK -- Kemba Walker scored 26 points and Connecticut won a Big East tournament game for the first time in six years, beating DePaul 97-71 on Tuesday in the opener of a conference showcase loaded with NCAA contenders.
Jeremy Lamb, playing on a sore knee, had 17 of his 19 points in the first half for the 21st-ranked Huskies (22-9), who got back on track after losing four of their final five regular-season games. No. 9 seed UConn advanced to play Wednesday against No. 22 Georgetown, the No. 8 seed at Madison Square Garden.
The Huskies had lost six consecutive Big East tournament games since beating Georgetown in the 2005 quarterfinals, a surprising streak of futility for a school that has won two national championships and six Big East tourney titles under Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun.
The skid included that classic, six-overtime loss in the 2009 quarterfinals to Syracuse, which handed the Huskies four of those six consecutive defeats.
Alex Oriakhi, left out of the starting lineup following a recent slump, had 13 points and 19 rebounds for UConn, which held a 46-22 edge on the glass.
The Big East is expected to set a record by sending at least 10 of its 16 members, including Connecticut, to the NCAA tournament, expanded this year from 65 to 68 teams. The number could reach 11 if Marquette gets off the bubble and into the field.
Lamb’s big first half helped the Huskies build a 45-28 lead at the break, but they got sloppy with the ball against DePaul’s full-court trap after halftime and finished with a season-high 20 turnovers.
The 16th-seeded Blue Demons (7-24) twice cut the deficit to seven midway through the second half, but Walker and his young teammates held off DePaul and won going away.
Walker, a first-team all-Big East selection and a contender for national player of the year, left to a warm hand with 2:26 remaining.
Brandon Young scored 20 points to lead the Blue Demons, who lost their last six games following their lone conference win of the season at Providence on Feb. 17.
DePaul closed its first campaign under coach Oliver Purnell with 18 losses in 19 games against Big East opponents and heads back to Chicago after a brief postseason trip to Manhattan.
The Blue Demons have won only two regular-season conference games in the past three years, though they did pull off an upset of Cincinnati as a No. 16 seed in the first round of the 2009 Big East tournament.
Jeremiah Kelly had 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting from 3-point range and Moses Morgan added 14 off the bench for DePaul, which played its final four games without leading scorer Cleveland Melvin. The 6-foot-8 freshman forward sprained his left thumb in a loss at St. John’s last month.
Five players scored in double figures for Connecticut, which set a season high for points. Jamal Coombs-McDaniel and Shabazz Napier each scored 11.
Calhoun improved to 300-172 in Big East regular-season and tournament games during his 25 seasons at UConn, joining Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim as the only coaches with 300 league wins.
Lamb, who came in averaging 9.6 points, twisted his right knee in Saturday’s loss to Notre Dame and didn’t practice Sunday. He wore a black sleeve on his knee Tuesday and appeared to run the floor without much trouble.
Lamb, a freshman swingman, averaged only seven points in Connecticut’s previous seven games.
DePaul was coming off a 107-59 loss at then-No. 12 Syracuse on Saturday, the most lopsided game in Big East history.