HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) Samson Johnson made the most of his second start at UConn, helping the Huskies to their first conference win of the season.

The junior center scored a career-high 16 points while filling in for injured star Donovan Clingan, and No. 5 Connecticut held off St. John’s 69-65 on Saturday night.

Tristen Newton added 15 points, 12 in the second half - including a key free throw with just under 17 seconds left. Cam Spencer also scored 15 for the Huskies (11-2, 1-1 Big East), who were coming off a 15-point loss at Seton Hall.

Johnson was the star, however, opening the game with a dunk and hitting seven of his 10 shots from the floor.

“Coming into the game, I just wanted to make all the right plays, all the tough plays,” he said.

Joel Soriano had 14 points and 11 rebounds to lead St. John’s, which had won six of seven. Daniss Jenkins added 13 points for the Red Storm (8-4, 1-1).

The game was tied at 63 before a driving layup by Newton and another by Stephon Castle put Connecticut up by four with two minutes left.

Soriano’s layup brought the Red Storm to 67-65, but teammate Chris Ledlum missed two free throws with just under 18 seconds left before Newton hit one of two at the line.

Jenkins missed a 3-pointer that would have tied it for St. John’s, and Hassan Diarra sank a foul shot with five seconds remaining to seal the win.

“We saved Christmas for ourselves and for our great fans and for the state of Connecticut, because a loss here tonight would have meant a lot of doom and gloom for a lot of people," UConn coach Dan Hurley said.

St. John’s led by six at halftime and extended that to eight with the first bucket of the second half.

But seconds later, Spencer made a 3 and Newton converted a three-point play after he and Spencer had a little altercation with Glenn Taylor Jr. of St. John's. It was part of a 10-0 run for UConn fueled by Spencer running to halfcourt and gesturing to fans, who responded with a deafening roar.

“Just heat of the moment. I tried to get them involved,” Spencer said. “They were great tonight.”

A 3-pointer by Spencer after an offensive rebound gave the Huskies a 44-41 lead and they held the advantage until Taylor hit a 3 with 4 1/2 minutes left to put St. John's back in front 63-61.

“It's a missed opportunity, but it's the best game we played this year,” coach Rick Pitino said.

“We are coming as a basketball team," he added. "We are coming.”


St. John's: RJ Luis Jr., who had missed all but one game this season, first with a broken left hand and then with shin splints, played just over 18 minutes in his return and scored six points.

UConn: The Huskies will be without the 7-foot-2 Clingan for about a month. The school said the sophomore, who missed a month of the preseason with a right foot injury, injured a tendon in the same foot Wednesday during a loss at Seton Hall. Hurley said the two injuries are not related. Clingan had been averaging just under 14 points and just over six rebounds a game.


St. John's: Will host Hofstra on Dec. 30 at UBS Arena.

UConn: The Huskies are off until Jan. 2 when they return to campus to face DePaul.


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