This time, Syracuse and Connecticut only needed one overtime.
Kemba Walker scored 33 points and added 12 rebounds, six steals and five assists as Connecticut defeated Syracuse in overtime, 76-71. Walker hit four free throws and Jeremy Lamb scored four of his 11 in the extra frame as the Huskies advanced to the Big East championship game.
“We tried to double [Walker] every chance we could but he’s very difficult — he’s as good a player as there is in college basketball right now,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “He just made tremendous plays.”
Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph each had 20 to lead Syracuse. Alex Oriakhi had 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Huskies.
It was another thrilling chapter in the rivalry between these two schools. The last time Connecticut and Syracuse faced each other in the Big East tournament, six overtimes were needed to decide the winner. In that 2009 Big East quarterfinals game, the Orange prevailed 127-117.
It was more of the same on Friday, as Jardine single-handedly erased a six point deficit with 25 seconds left in the game. Jardine started by banking a 3 over Walker from the top of the key.
The Orange then fouled Shabazz Napier who missed the front end of a one-and-one, and Syracuse gained possession. Rick Jackson set a high screen for Jardine, and Jardine drained the shot to tie the game with 4.6 seconds left.
“I gave my team the chance to win the game,” Jardine said. “I was worried about
getting into overtime.”
That appeared to set up Walker for another dramatic finish, much like he did on Thursday afternoon, when he hit the final shot as time expired in a 76-74 win over Pittsburgh. But Donnell Beverly’s pass to Walker went wide and sailed out of bounds, sending the game to overtime.
Unlike in 2009, the overtime wasn’t decided by last minute shots or thrilling heroics. Rather, it was settled on the free throw line.
Jackson and CJ Fair both missed the front end of one-and-ones, and Joseph missed one of two from the line after that. The Orange was just 5-for-11 from the line.
Meanwhile, Walker hit all four of his free throws (Connecticut was 22-for-28 from the stripe), and Lamb’s runner over Jackson with 26 seconds left gave the Huskies a 74-71 lead.
“We only got 11 foul shots, we missed a couple,” Boeheim said. “But when you only get to the line 11 times something happened there.”
Jardine attempted to tie the game again with a deep 3, but he misfired, and Connecticut held on.
“We made a tremendous come-back at the end of the game,” Boeheim said. “We had some really good opportunities and we just didn’t convert them.”
While the game had the ending of a classic game, it certainly didn’t start that way.
The Orange shot just 10-for-37 from the floor while Connecticut was 8-for-30, and missed all of its eight 3-point tries in the first half. But that changed quickly after intermission, as both teams combined to shoot 35-for-75 in the second half.
Much of that was thanks to Walker, who, with 111 combined points, has now passed former SU guard Eric Devendorf record for most points in a Big East tournament. Devendorf had 84 points in 2009.
“He’s had momentum from day one since they played DePaul,” Joseph said. “He plays with a big heart, and you have to respect that in a player.”