UConn defeats Syracuse in final Big East showdown
UConn guard Ryan Boatright shoots past two Syaracuse defenders in UConn’s 66-58 win over the Orange at the XL Center Wednesday. Kevin Scheller/The Daily Campus
UConn will not win the national championship, but it did win its most crucial game this season Wednesday night. In a thrilling 66-58 win over Syracuse for the last time as conference foes, the game went much better than planned.
"They're leaving the Big East with a bad taste of UConn in their mouth," sophomore Ryan Boatright said.
Calhoun drilled a three with 9:49 left in the second half to give the Huskies a 45-42 lead. They never looked back. The last game, in the foreseeable future, between the two Big East rivals featured 15 lead changes and eight ties.
The win improves UConn's record to 17-6 overall and 7-4 in the Big East. The Orange drop to 20-4 and 8-3 in the conference. The Connecticut win snapped a three-game losing streak to Syracuse and was the first home win over the Orange since 2009.
"They can ban us from the postseason, they can ban us from the Big East tournament, but they can't ban us from getting better and loving each other," head coach Kevin Ollie said.
Ollie said after the game that Wednesday night's victory compared to the win over Michigan State in Germany to begin the regular season.
Despite allowing 20 offensive rebounds, the Huskies held the Orange to 35 percent from the field and 4 for 23 on three-point attempts.
Junior Tyler Olander opened the game with a powerful dunk, followed by an athletic up-and-under lay-up with three Orange defenders swarming. He gave UConn an early 4-2 advantage and finished with those four points and four rebounds. Olander got into early foul trouble, and Ollie was forced to call on inexperienced freshman Phillip Nolan.
Nolan grabbed five huge rebounds in 14 minutes. He attributed his ability to bang bodies with the Syracuse big men to Tuesday's practice, when Olander and former UConn star Donny Marshall worked on his low-post defense. It paid off.
"With Enosch Wolf out, DeAndre, Tyler and myself realized that we has [sic.] to step up," Nolan said. "That's what this team is made of."
Syracuse senior Brandon Triche rattled in a jumper in the paint, followed by a breakaway dunk from sophomore Michael Carter-Williams. Then, a jumper from the elbow from Trevor Cooney allowed Syracuse to quickly erase the minor deficit and gain an 11-8 lead.
Both teams exchanged blows throughout the rest of the first half. Junior Niels Giffey threw down a thunderous dunk to put the Huskies ahead. Syracuse senior James Southerand answered with a three. Southerland was the only Orange player to convert a 3-point field goal. In his second game after being suspended, Southerland was 4 for 9 in three-point shooting and finished with 14 points in 25 minutes.
Junior Shabazz Napier continued the funk of disappearing in the first half of games. But with 3:30 left in the first half and his team down two, Napier pulled up from three, nailed it and sent a crowd of 13,518 into a frenzy.
Syracuse missed at the other end, and Napier knocked down a pretty 15-foot jump shot made possible by Olander's screen.
With 19 seconds left in the first half, Nolan wrestled the ball away from Carter-Williams and got the ball to Napier, who wisely slowed the ball down, and allowing Ollie to call a timeout. Syracuse played 18 seconds of its patented 2-3 zone defense, but could not stop Boatright from hitting a three to beat the halftime buzzer and send the Huskies into the locker up 29-24.
Syracuse's 24 points were the second-lowest mark in the first half this season.
Syracuse started the second half on a 6-0 run. Boatright responded with a 6-0 run of his own, and the score was tied at 35 with 15:35 remaining in regulation.
The game looked like a rugby match for a few moments, as players from both teams gave up their bodies for a loose ball. Napier won the scrum at mid-court and finished it off with a textbook lay-up.
During the next UConn possession, Boatright soared behind the Syracuse defense and Napier lobbed a perfect alley-oop that made the XL Center erupt. Boatright led the team with 17 points on 6 for 10 shooting, including 3 for 4 from behind the arc.
The Orange fought back once again and took a 40-39 lead on a quick three from Southerland out of a timeout.
It would be Syracuse's last lead of the game
Calhoun made two threes, Boatright slammed home a one-handed jam and UConn was leading 52-44. The Orange would not get within six as UConn made its free throws and Syracuse missed its jump shots in the final five minutes.
As time expired, the UConn students did not storm the court after upsetting a Top 10 team. Instead, the UConn players high-fived and hugged the energetic student body in thank for their support throughout the game.
There are still seven games remaining for the Huskies, and there are still plenty of goals to meet in that time.
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