NEW YORK — Playing with the swagger of a home team on a neutral court, the Connecticut Huskies turned back the Iowa State Cyclones 81-76 on Friday night in the semifinals of the NCAA East Regional at Madison Square Garden, their “home-away-from-home.”
UConn (29-8), the seventh seed, faces the winner of Virginia-Michigan State on Sunday for a spot in the Final Four.
With a large legion of fans supporting them, the Huskies were comfortable in a building where they won seven Big East Conference tournaments and the 1988 NIT. UConn is 60-52 at Madison Square Garden.
Coach Kevin Ollie’s team certainly looked poised down the stretch, nailing 11 of their 12 shots from the line in the final 47 seconds of the game. They finished 20 of 22.
“I just want to thank all the fans that came out and supported us,” Ollie said. “We can really hear them cheering for us, but then we could also feed off them. We can also draw off their energy. They just did a wonderful job.”
Iowa State (28-8), the third seed, closed to six points at 77-71 with 14 seconds to play before UConn forward DeAndre Daniels buried four straight shots from the stripe for an 81-73 cushion.
Daniels led the Huskies with 27 points, including 19 in the second half, and 10 rebounds. UConn guard Shabazz Napier added 19 points and guard Ryan Boatwright chipped in with 16 points.
“He (Daniels) was unbelievable tonight,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Shabazz (Napier) and (Ryan) Boatwright were really good early knocking down shots for them and then Daniels went through that stretch in the second half where they really went to him.
“He was getting mid-range shots over extended hands and got free for a couple of 3s where I didn’t think we went out there and got a hand up.”
Iowa State, which entered the game with the country’s fifth highest-scoring offense at 83.2 points per game, was held to one of its lowest outputs of the season.
Junior forward Dustin Hogue scored a career-high 34 points for Iowa State. Cyclones forward Melvin Ejim, the Big 12 Player of the Year, was in foul trouble and struggled with his shot. Ejim finished with just seven points, well below his 18.1 average.
Guard DeAndre Kane, shadowed by Napier for most of the game, scored 16 points for the Cyclones.
The Huskies are 35-8 in their last 12 appearances in the NCAA Tournament, dating to their 6-0 run to the national championship in 1999. Included in that span are NCAA titles in 1999, 2004 and 2011.
Iowa State got to within five points at 70-65 on a layup from guard Naz Long with 1:38 to play before guard Terrence Samuel hit two free throws with 36 seconds left and Napier made two from the line with 47 seconds left for a 74-67 Huskies lead.
“It’s definitely a comfortable thing for us,” Napier said about playing at the Garden. “We played here a bunch of times and we kind of got a feel for the court. But that’s no big advantage.
“I think the biggest advantage is our fans. And with it being not too far away, we have the support to come down and cheer us on, and a lot of teams don’t have that.
“We just feel like Madison Square Garden is kind of our third home. Gampel being the first and XL being the second. We just want to come out and give our best effort. And with our fans behind us, cheering for us whether we’re up by 10 or down by five, we feel like we always have a chance.”
Iowa State cut the UConn lead to 10 points several times in the final six minutes of the game but could not put together more than four-point run.
““They did a good job packing in the paint,” Hogue said. “We really didn’t move the ball too much and we were real stagnant in our iso. We needed to move the ball around and without that being done, they were able to pack the lane up and make us take a lot of tough shots.”
The Huskies relied on their long-range shooting to grab a 36-26 halftime lead. They
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