Catholic University, ahead by 12 points late in the game, withstood an 8-1 run by Connecticut College in the final two minutes last night and advanced, 71-68, into the final of the inaugural eight-team Eastern Invitational basketball tournament at CU's DuFour Center.

In the opening semifinal, Emory University broke away in the waning minutes to defeat Union College, 90-83. Emory (14-11) will meet the Cardinals at 4 p.m. today.

"I thought for 15 minutes of the second half that we played great man-to-man defense but it got to be 68-56 and our guys sort of let up thinking the game was over," said Catholic Coach Jack Bruen. "We stopped running our offense, committed some turnovers . . . got a little too erratic from the free throw line."

Catholic led, 70-60, with 2:40 left, then point guard Mike Lonergan fouled out and the Camels put on full-court pressure that the Cardinals had trouble dealing with without him running the show.

Eddie Hoffman scored on a driving layup and converted a free throw for Connecticut. Scott Sawyer (16 points) hit a three-pointer to make it yet more interesting for the packed house, 70-66.

Catholic (18-7) followed with successive turnovers and the Camels (14-8), on David Blair's turnaround jumper at 1:09, pulled to 70-68.

The Cardinals, who got 31 points from Kenny Wills, made it tough on themselves in the final minute by missing five of six free throws and had to rely on a defensive stand featuring two rejections by Kevin Boddie in the closing seconds. Sawyer missed a three-pointer at the buzzer.