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Newton leads No. 2 UConn past St. John's 95-90 and into first Big East title game since 2011

NEW YORK (AP) — For the first time since Kemba Walker took UConn on that “Kardiac” ride, the Huskies are back in the Big East championship game.

Tristen Newton had 25 points and nine assists as No. 2 Connecticut advanced Friday with a rollicking 95-90 victory over St. John's at Madison Square Garden.

Cam Spencer added 20 points and nine assists for the top-seeded Huskies (30-3), who will face 10th-ranked Marquette on Saturday night after the third-seeded Golden Eagles defeated No. 7 seed Providence 79-68 in the second semifinal.

“We're going to treat it like it’s the Super Bowl,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said.

It's the 11th appearance in the Big East Tournament final for the Huskies and first since Walker carried them to their thrilling 2011 title with five wins in five days. Connecticut had been 0-3 in conference semifinals since rejoining the league in 2020-21 after spending seven seasons in the American Athletic Conference.

“We've been (trying) all year to win multiple championships, and this is one of the stops,” Newton said.

St. John's (20-13) fell behind by 14 with 12:28 left and couldn't climb all the way back. The fifth-seeded Red Storm stayed in the game for much of the way against the reigning national champions, but couldn't quite keep up.

Johnnies point guard Daniss Jenkins poured in 27 points before a split crowd inside a rocking Garden for this matchup between original Big East members. Jordan Dingle scored 19.

“These guys played their tails off,” Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino said. “You score 90 points against the defending national champions, I think you're doing a lot of things right.”

Alex Karaban had 14 points for the Huskies, who overcame foul trouble for 7-foot-2 center Donovan Clingan. They improved to 6-0 at MSG this season with their sixth consecutive victory overall and 20th in 21 games.

“I think we showed that we could win any type of game,” Hurley said.

Playing in the Big East semifinals for the first time since winning the 2000 tournament, St. John’s had won six games in a row — four of them by at least 14 points.

“That's one of the better teams we’ve played, one of the more talented teams, and clearly an NCAA Tournament team," Hurley said.

Both famous coaches were fired up throughout this one and received matching technical fouls in the first half for yelling at officials.

“I haven’t had a technical in a long, long time. I was really looking forward to that moment,” the 71-year-old Pitino deadpanned.

After making their final 15 attempts from the field in Thursday's 87-60 quarterfinal rout of Xavier, the Huskies shot 63% with six 3s and made 12 of 13 free throws in the first half to take a 52-47 lead into the break behind Newton's 20 points and six assists.

St. John's stayed close thanks to Jenkins, who scored 14 straight Red Storm points in 3:18 early on.

“Obviously, awesome atmosphere,” Hurley said. “Thought it lived up to everything that people hoped for with this game tonight — the emotions, the intensity, the shot-making. It was just a fun game to be a part of.”

BRILLIANT BACKCOURT

Newton and Spencer became the only Division I teammates in the past 25 years to each have at least 20 points, eight assists and no more than one turnover in the same game, according to OptaSTATS.

“They’re just a great, great offensive basketball team,” Pitino said.

BIG PICTURE

St. John's: With their late-season win streak, the Red Storm have made a strong push for their first NCAA Tournament invite since 2019 under coach Chris Mullin. They began the day with an NCAA NET ranking of 32, fourth-best among Big East teams. In his first season at St. John's, Pitino is trying to become the first coach to take six schools to the NCAAs.

“We’ll see who we play,” a confident Pitino said. “If we get the right matchup, we could cause some serious damage.”

UConn: Seeking its eighth Big East Tournament title, which would match Georgetown for the most of any school.

STREAK SNAPPED

Going back to consecutive Big East Tournament championships at Louisville in 2012 and 2013, Pitino had won eight consecutive games in this event. He joked after Thursday’s 91-72 quarterfinal win over Hudson River rival Seton Hall that he had told his players they better not sabotage his streak.

UP NEXT

UConn swept both games against Marquette during the regular season.

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball