Iona gave UConn its best shot, but UConn’s best shot was better.
Iona, a 13-seed in the West Region led by Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino, took a 39-37 lead into the halftime locker room on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Albany.
But the second half was a completely different story.
UConn, the No. 4 seed, got out of the gate with a 17–4 run in the first five minutes of the second half, turning that halftime deficit into a two-point advantage. That surge allowed UConn to seal the victory in an 87–63 victory. Overall, UConn outscored Iona 50–24 in the second half.
It was 20 minutes of basketball by a team that looks like it could make a run at the tournament.
A tremendous second-half effort from UConn came after a largely controlled first half by Iona’s Guards. As the game progressed, UConn’s talent and depth took their toll.
Iona had no way of stopping Adama Sanogo, Yukon’s big man. Sanogo posted a double-double, leading all scorers with 28 points on 13-of-17 shooting to go along with 13 rebounds. Of the 28 points he scored, 22 came in the second half. And when Sanogo was off the court, Donovan Klingon was able to produce at an even higher clip. Klingon, a 7-foot-2 freshman, put up 10 points and nine rebounds in just 18 minutes off the bench.
The Huskies’ guards didn’t have their most efficient shooting performance, but Jordan Hawkins and Andre Jackson Jr. scored 23 points, totaling 3-pointers. Nahiem Alleyne and Joey Calcaterra also hit big shots off the bench, combining for 14 points on 4-of-6 from beyond the arc.
With the win, the Huskies will move on to face No. 5 seed St. Mary’s in the Round of 32 on Sunday.
What’s next for Iona coach Rick Pitino?
Pitino is 70 years old and has spent three seasons at Iona following his tumultuous firing in Louisville and a tough coaching stint overseas. With Friday’s loss, Pitino has a 64-22 record with two NCAA tournament appearances in three seasons at Iona. But now it looks like he is about to move on to another job.
Pitino’s name has continually come up in connection with the opening in St. John’s. Pitino is a native New Yorker and will be able to travel from New Rochelle (where Iona is located) to Queens if he gets off in St. John’s. St. John’s fired Mike Anderson last week after four seasons, a move that opened the door for Pitino to return to the Big East after decades outside the league.
After Friday’s game, Pitino said he was unsure whether he coached his final game at Iona.
Pitino said, “To be honest, I really don’t have an answer. I have no idea. I’ve focused everything on this game trying to develop a plan to beat Connecticut.” “I really have no idea what the future may bring.”
Pitino had long stays at Kentucky and Louisville and also coached the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics, but he hasn’t been a head coach in the Big East since he moved to Providence in 1986 and 1987.
During his postgame media availability, Pitino mentioned St. John’s by name and noted that he had not been to the school’s campus. since 1987 when he was coaching Providence,
“I haven’t really put much thought into it at all. I think when you start thinking ahead, you always fail, and we put a lot of effort into this sport. I don’t know if it’s my Is it true or not, another work. I don’t know that. I know you all are pointing to St. John’s, but I have never seen St. John’s. I am too tired to tell you the truth about it. Nothing’s missing. You don’t buy a house without looking at the garage, upstairs and kitchen. You don’t just buy a house, do you?” Pitino said.