Thursday afternoon’s Big East Tournament quarterfinal game between top-seeded Syracuse and #9-seed Connecticut did not have all the drama of their last quarterfinal matchup in 2009 that went six overtimes.
It still had more than enough for the Orange (31-1), as they needed a decisive run late in the second half to advance to the semifinals with a 58-55 win over the Huskies (20-13). While they did not shoot well, SU was very careful with the ball, committing a season-low four turnovers, and put forth their normal strong effort on defense, holding UConn to 34.4 percent shooting from the floor.
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In fact, Syracuse made their late push through their defense, as they forced nine consecutive missed field goals and a pair of turnovers in turning an eight-point deficit into a four-point lead.
The Orange grabbed an early 6-3 lead, but the Huskies turned the game into a see-saw affair, knotting the score, then answering each of the next three SU scores. Near the midpoint of the half, Dion Waiters ignited, scoring six straight points to break a 12-all tie and power an 8-0 run for the Orange. With under six minutes on the clock, the Huskies rang up six straight points to clip the Syracuse lead to 23-21. A pair of baskets by Brandon Triche, including a ferocious put-back dunk in a crowd of Connecticut players, offset a Husky three-pointer and helped the Orange to a 27-24 halftime lead.
UConn made a strong push in the opening moments of the second half, outscoring SU 15-4 in the first six minutes of the session to take a 39-31 lead and force a timeout by the listless Orange. The Huskies held Syracuse at bay for a couple more minutes, but the Orange made their move just before the 12-minute mark. SU outscored Connecticut 17-5 over a span of nine-and-a-half minutes to hold a 51-47 lead with under three minutes left in the contest. James Southerland and Dion Waiters were responsible for eight straight points to cap the push as Southerland buried a pair of threes around a Waiters jumper. A dunk got the Huskies back within a deuce, but five more Syracuse points stretched their lead to 56-49. Connecticut got four quick points to make it a one-possession game, but a pair of SU free throws enabled them to hold on for the victory.
Dion Waiters paced Syracuse with 18 points on a coldly efficient 8-of-11 shooting effort. Kris Joseph and James Southerland were the only other SU players in double digits, as they each scored 10 points. Both did the majority of their work in the second half, as Joseph posted eight of his points in the second half and Southerland all ten of his in the game’s final eight minutes. Fab Melo and Brandon Triche each chipped in seven points.
GAME AND TEAM NOTES:
- On Monday, the Big East announced four of the conference’s major award winners and two of them went to Syracuse players. Fab Melo was named the Big East Defensive Player of the Year after averaging 3.7 blocked shots per game in conference action. Melo is the second straight SU player to win the award, as Rick Jackson took home the prize last season. Dion Waiters was also an award winner, as he was named the Big East Sixth Man of the Year. Waiters appeared in every Syracuse game as a reserve and averaged 11.9 points and 1.9 steals per game. The last Orange player to win the award was Kris Joseph, who won the honor two years ago.
- Kris Joseph was named one of 15 finalists for the John R. Wooden Award, which is given annually to the best player in college basketball.
- Syracuse has now won five of the last six contests against Connecticut in the Big East Tournament.
- Friday evening, Syracuse will duel with fourth-seeded Cincinnati in the first of two semifinal contests. The Bearcats (23-9) advanced through their quarterfinal game by edging Georgetown in double overtime, 72-70. The regular season matchup between the two squads on January 23 went in favor of the Orange, who won in Cincinnati, 60-53. SU, who was without the services of center Fab Melo in the game, had three players reach double figures in scoring, led by Kris Joseph, who had 17 points.