Saturday afternoon, a Notre Dame loss clinched the second Big East regular season title in three years for #2 Syracuse. Saturday night, the Orange (29-1, 16-1) did not coast on their title, edging Connecticut in Storrs, 71-69.
SU looked like a team cruising to a championship early in the game, leading by as many as 17 points, but needed a put-back dunk in the final minute and a pair of blocked shots in the waning seconds to knock off the Huskies (17-11, 7-9).
Connecticut took an early lead, but a pair of Syracuse scores put the visitors on top, 5-4. The Huskies got a basket to go up 6-5 with just over three minutes gone, but Kris Joesph scored seven straight points to take away UConn’s last lead of the night and put the Orange up by six. Five straight points whittled the SU lead down to one, but they responded by blowing the doors off the hosts with a 13-0 run that caused Connecticut to call a pair of time outs and gave the Orange a 25-11 lead with 8:30 left in the half.
The Huskies climbed back within 11, but five straight Syracuse points gave them the largest lead of the half at 32-16. An 8-2 UConn burst had the hosts within nine late in the half, but six straight SU points matched their biggest lead to that point at 43-27. A pair of Husky free throws in the final minute made the halftime score 43-29 in favor of Syracuse.
A three-pointer on the their first possession of the second half stretched the Orange lead to 17 points, but Connecticut used a 7-2 burst to get within 48-36 with just over three minutes elapsed. After the two squads traded a couple scores apiece, UConn got six straight points to get the margin to single digits at 54-46. Syracuse nudged it back out to ten points, but a Huskies’ three-point play helped them climb within seven.
The Orange scored the game’s next four points to make it a double-digit lead at 60-49, but UConn matched it to get within seven again. With under seven minutes to go, the hosts went on an 8-0 run to knot the game at 63 and force SU to take a time out. The Orange scored on their next two possessions to take a 67-63 lead, but the Huskies got a basket to get within two. SU added another score to go back up by four, but two straight UConn scores made it a 69-69 game with under a minute to go. After a Syracuse time out, C.J. Fair missed a contested shot from close in, but Fab Melo grabbed the ball as it came off the rim and slammed it home for a two-point lead with 31 seconds to play.
On Connecticut’s ensuing possession, Dion Waiters blocked a three-point shot that would have given the hosts the lead. The ball went out of bounds and possession stayed with UConn. The Huskies had one more try, but Fair swatted away a short jump shot, turning the SU lead into an Orange victory.
Kris Joseph paced the Orange with 21 points, netting 12 in the first half, and splashed a trio of treys. Fab Melo contributed a strong all-around game, piling up 11 points and leading the team with nine rebounds and three blocked shots. Dion Waiters was the third Syracuse player in double-digit points with 10. Scoop Jardine had three steals to lead the squad.
- The victory is the 400th in Big East play for head coach Jim Boeheim, as well as his third conference regular season championship (1991 and 2010).
- With their 29th win and also their 16th in the Big East, the 2011-2012 team has set the new benchmark for both regular season victories and conference wins for Syracuse, surpassing the 2009-2010 team in both categories.
- The win was the first in five games at Gampel Pavilion for the Orange.
- Kris Joseph became the player with the most victories in Syracuse basketball history, as the team collected its 114th win with him on the active roster. The previous record holders were Derrick Coleman and Stephen Thompson from 1986-1990 and Sherman Douglas from 1985-1989, all with 113 wins.
- Syracuse gets a break until next Saturday, when they will host #17 Louisville in the season finale. The Cardinals (21-7, 9-6) have split their last two games after being edged at home by the Orange on Monday, February 13, 52-51, and host both Pittsburgh and South Florida before traveling to the Carrier Dome. It will be the final home game in the careers of both Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph.
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