Syracuse’s stingy defense returned, allowing the Orange to return to the win column.
Brandon Triche scored 16 points, and Rick Jackson added 13 points and 13 rebounds as No. 17 Syracuse (19-4, 6-4 Big East) snapped its four game losing streak by defeating No. 7 Connecticut (17-4, 5-4) 66-58.
“Our defense was better,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “When you lose four in a row you try to find a way to make a play. It’s not easy. That game easily could’ve gotten away from us two or three times.”
Syracuse’s defense finally turned in a solid effort, as the Orange held the Huskies to just 36 percent shooting from the floor and 8-for-23 from downtown. In its past four games, SU had allowed opponents to score an average of 80.7 points per game and 47 percent from 3-point land.
But the Orange was able to contain the Big East’s leading scorer, Kemba Walker. The junior came in averaging 24.2 points, but SU’s zone contained him, as he finished with just eight points on 3-for-14 shooting. Syracuse was also able to force 14 turnovers.
“When you play zone, when you get in the middle, the zone is cracked,” forward Kris Joseph said. “We did a better job of staying in front of the guards tonight. They had to settle for a lot of outside shots. We made them settle for tougher shots.”
SU also got a major contribution from freshmen reserve center Baye Moussa Keita, who scored four points, collected six steals and added 11 rebounds.
Freshman Jeremy Lamb scored 22 points to lead the Huskies.
The game was close throughout with neither team ever owning a double digit lead.
Syracuse finally pulled away with 1:21 left after Joseph streaked to the left block and hit a shot while being fouled by Alex Oriakhi. Joseph would hit the free throw, giving Syracuse a 61-54 lead, helping Boeheim avoid his first five-game losing streak in his head coaching career.
“We only played one bad game in the four games we lost,” Boeheim said. “That’s the league. That’s just the way it is.”
Both teams got off to a slow start offensively. With 14:29 left in the first half, Syracuse finally got its first basket after Brandon Triche converted a fast break layup to cut into Connecticut’s lead, 6-2.
That basket would finally get the Orange going, and it closed the final four minutes of the first half on a 12-2 run that gave Syracuse a 26-25 lead heading into half.
“It wasn’t as tough as the other ones,” Triche said. “I knew once the game was close, there was no way we were going to lose this one.”
The one-point lead was Syracuse’s first lead since Jan. 22 when Syracuse lead Villanova 2-0.
Once Syracuse had the lead, it would never relinquish it.
Triche started off the second half with Syracuse’s first 3-pointer to give the Orange a 29-25 lead with 19:34 left. SU has previously gone 0-for-6 from distance in the first half. Triche would add another layup and long 2-point jumper as the Orange opened up a 33-27 lead.
A layup from Jackson would give Syracuse’s its biggest margin of the game, a 46-37 advantage. But a Charles Okwandu tip in capped a 7-2 run to pull the Huskies within 53-52 with 4:56 left.
“I’m proud of us,” Joseph said. “I’m proud of the way we played tonight. Today, we kept it going on the defensive end and stayed patient on offense.”
Wesley Cheng is the Editor in Chief for The Juice Online.
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