BOSTON — The NCAA Tournament is supposed to be the time of playing tight, down-to-the-wire games. Surviving and advancing is at the heart of March Madness.

But it hasn’t been that way for UConn. In fact, it’s been the exact opposite.

The Huskies have made NCAA Tournament play look easy dating back to last year’s run to a national title. UConn is at it again this season, too. The top-seeded Huskies put together a dominant second half Thursday night to throttle No. 5 San Diego State, 82-52, in front of a strong contingent of UConn fans at TD Garden.

It was UConn’s ninth straight NCAA Tournament win by double digits, which ties the record set by Michigan State nearly 25 years ago. It isn’t supposed to be like that at this time of year. But for UConn it is.

Story continues below advertisement

“We suck at winning close games, so you have to go with the alternative,” UConn head coach Dan Hurley said. “I think the group, we have killer instincts. We play every possession with great desperation. … Obviously we’re very comfortable in tournament play. We’re hard to prepare for.”

Cam Spencer, who netted a team-high 18 points in the win over the Aztecs, wasn’t with the Huskies last season when they lifted the national title for the first time since 2014. He transferred in from Rutgers this season, so this is a new experience for him.

    What do you think?  Leave a comment.

That can’t be said about his teammates, with a solid group having enjoyed the glory of getting to the mountaintop already. But that hasn’t satisfied the Huskies in the least bit.

“I think everybody is very hungry,” Spencer said. “Obviously the team had great success last year, but it’s a different group. A lot of those returners came back wanting to go do it again and help the new guys experience a national championship. I think that is just a part of the UConn culture.”

Story continues below advertisement

UConn never was in danger of falling to the Aztecs. San Diego State did what Stetson and Northwestern couldn’t do in the tournament and took a lead on the Huskies in the first half. But they were in front for not even 30 seconds.

The Huskies flexed their muscles by grabbing 21 offensive rebounds and outscoring San Diego State, 42-21, in the second half. When the final buzzer sounded, UConn had grabbed its 34th win of the season, tying a program record.

“These guys right now are leaving a legacy in a place that’s hard to leave a legacy,” Hurley said. “It’s been a historical season in a tough place to make history. They’re galvanized by that.”

Here are more notes from Thursday’s Sweet 16 games at TD Garden:

Story continues below advertisement

— The night cap of the Sweet 16 matchups turned into the Terrence Shannon Jr. show. The Illinois fifth-year guard delivered a key performance by pouring in a game-high 29 points on 10-for-19 shooting to lift the third-seeded Fighting Illini to a 72-69 win over No. 2 Iowa State. He became the first player in program history to score at least 25 points in three straight NCAA Tournament games.

Shannon came up clutch, too, after sitting out due to foul trouble. He drilled a 3-pointer with just under five minutes remaining after Iowa closed within two. He also knocked down key free throws and sealed the win with a steal and dunk with 17 seconds left.

“People who know Terrence know what a great, great competitor he is and how he loves to win,” Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said. “To do that cold shows he stayed in the game mentally. He was always cheering and excited in the timeouts and on the bench. He was dialed in mentally, and that’s not an easy thing to do to, step in and bury a three. It was a big one.

“I debated whether to put him in that early. I usually try to wait until the under four (timeout). You’re in the Sweet 16, so you got to roll with your dudes. And then the steal was great timing as well.”

Story continues below advertisement

— Playing at TD Garden was a homecoming for UConn forward and Southborough, Mass., native Alex Karaban. The 6-foot-8 sharpshooter looked very comfortable to start, sinking a 3-pointer from the wing 1:24 into the contest. He also buried a near-logo triple minutes later. Karaban did cool off after that as he finished eight points on 3-for-11 shooting to go along with seven rebounds and three steals.

“Just that start by Alex really settled us,” Hurley said.

— Iowa State’s Hason Ward also has Massachusetts ties as he played high school basketball for Springfield Central. The 6-foot-9 senior forward, who is a defensive menace, didn’t score any points but recorded four rebounds and two blocks before fouling out late in the second half.

Story continues below advertisement

— UConn and Illinois square off Saturday at 6:09 p.m. ET with a trip to the Final Four on the line. It’s the Fighting Illini’s first Elite 8 appearance in 19 years and they are looking to make the most of it by upsetting the Huskies.

“I have a lot of respect for them and everything they’ve done,” Illinois senior forward Marcus Domask said. “We’ve played a lot of college basketball. I’ve played a lot of teams that are supposed to beat us, if you want to say they’re supposed to beat us. We’ll figure out how to guard them and how to score on them, but they got to do the same for us. It’s just another game really.”

Featured image via Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports Images