UConn defeats Syracuse in Big East Tournament thriller

Huskies overcome two late 3-pointers by SU's Scoop Jardine and send Syracuse packing, 76-71, in overtime

Syracuse guard Scoop Jardine pulled his team all the way back from the brink, nailing two miracle 3-point shots in the final 21 seconds to stun UConn and tie their Big East Tournament semifinal matchup at 68. But missed free throws and the continued dominance of the Huskies’ Kemba Walker doomed Syracuse (26-7), as they lost to UConn (25-9) in overtime, 76-71. The Huskies will play in the Big East Tournament Championship tomorrow while Syracuse heads home to regroup before the NCAA Tournament.

Photo: Zach Ornitz
Kemba Walker (15) recovered from a dismal performance in his first matchup with Syracuse to lead the Huskies to their fourth win in four nights.

It was another Big East Tournament thriller between the two teams, who went to a memorable six-overtime game two years ago. Though this one didn’t last quite as long, it too was a tight battle that lasted until the final few seconds.

“Well, it always is a great game,” said UConn head coach Jim Calhoun, who picked up career win number 32 in Big East Tournament play. “Not necessarily from a high percentage standpoint but from a warrior standpoint.”

Both teams shot poorly for most of the game, Syracuse at 37 percent and UConn at 38 percent. Syracuse’s 3-point shooting kept them close, as the Orange shot 10-24 from behind the arc. UConn took advantage of its free throw attempts, hitting 22 of 28. Syracuse only went to the line 11 times and missed three huge attempts in overtime. In fact, Walker shot more free throws than the entire Orange squad with 14 attempts.

“When one player from their team can outshoot us in free throws, you know something’s wrong,” said Orange forward Kris Joseph.

Walker was the story of the game. A day after nailing a game-winner to upset Pittsburgh, the New York City native scored 33 points and set a scoring record for any college basketball conference tournament after reaching 111 points.

“We tried to double him every chance we could but he’s very difficult,” said Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim. “He’s as good a player as there is in college basketball right now.

Jardine was able to tie the game after UConn’s Shabazz Napier missed the front end of a one-and-one with the Huskies clinging to a 68-65 lead with 15 seconds left in regulation. But Syracuse could not take advantage of the new life, missing three big free throws in overtime that forced them to play from behind for most of the extra period. Jardine also missed a long 3-point shot with the Orange trailing 74-71 with 17 seconds left in overtime.

“We didn’t come through in overtime, that’s all I’m worrying about right now,” said Jardine, who finished with 20 points.

SU forwards Joseph and Rick Jackson kept the Orange in the game after UConn’s lead swelled to eight points at the beginning of the second half. With the Huskies leading 45-37 Joseph (20 points, 9 rebounds) nailed a 3-point shot, then dunked on the next possession to pull the Orange within five. After Jackson (12 points, 8 rebounds) hit a layup in traffic, Joseph was fouled while making a 3-pointer and converted the ensuing free throw to put SU up, 55-52.

UConn freshman Jeremy Lamb, who scored 11 points, hit a 3-point shot of his own to open up a 65-60 Huskies lead with 2:10 remaining to set up Jardine’s heroics.     

The first half was a debacle on offense for almost everyone involved. UConn led 26-25 at halftime and both teams made only 27 percent of their field goal attempts. While Syracuse’s zone defense was humming early, the offense could not get anything going despite jumping out to an early 10-4 lead. Jardine and fellow guard Brandon Triche shot a combined 3-15 during the period. Triche, who would not see much playing time in the second half, missed all three of his 3-point attempts.

Freshman center Fab Melo, who scored a career-high 12 points in SU’s victory over St. John’s yesterday, came in and picked up two quick fouls and finished with three in the half. The mistakes overshadowed one of the better plays of the night, when Melo drove to the basket and fed forward Rick Jackson for an impressive dunk that gave SU a 16-13 lead.

After holding Walker in check for most of the first half, the star guard came alive. He nailed a pull-up jumper to give UConn a 17-16 lead with 7:23 left in the half, then scored on a fast break minutes later to give his team a 22-19 lead.

It was the start of a hot shooting streak that gave him the tournament scoring record, and eventually gave UConn the win. Now Syracuse is focusing on the next step, the NCAA Tournament and Selection Sunday, knowing one more loss will end what’s been a rollercoaster season.

“Time to get back to work,” Joseph said.

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