Syracuse pulls ahead of Connecticut in second half

Sophomore guard Dion Waiters had a game-high 18 points as the No. 1-seeded Orange dropped the Huskies

Photo: Brandon Weight
Dion Waiters goes up for the basket. Syracuse beat UConn 58-55 Thursday afternoon, eliminating UConn's 13-game postseason winning streak.

No. 2 Syracuse University needed a 24-10 second half run, including eight points from James Southerland, to outlast the University of Connecticut 58-55 in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals.

Thursday afternoon’s meeting marked the first time the teams had played each other three times in one season since the 2006-2007 season. With the victory, Syracuse swept the season series 3-0 and is now 4-0 against UConn in Big East quarterfinal matchups.

It wasn’t easy, though.

Syracuse’s fears of a postseason shooting slump came to fruition in the first half. Syracuse shot 10-of-30 (33 percent) from the field, including 1-of-6 from three for the half. Dion Waiters led the way for the Orange in the first half with 10 points but was forced to the bench after picking up his second foul with 6:52 remaining.

Fortunately for Syracuse, UConn matched the shooting performance with an equally miserable first half of its own.

The Huskies shot 10-of-33 (30 percent), including 3-of-11 from three. Syracuse took a 27-24 lead into the half.

“Both teams struggled shooting the ball, and both teams are very good defensively,” said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. “We couldn’t really get anything going offensively.”

But the defending champion Huskies came out of the locker room with a mind to upset the top-seeded Orange. UConn started the second half on a 15-4 run to jump out to a 39-31 lead.

“Connecticut is very, very good,” Boeheim said. “When they had the lead by eight or nine points they were in great position.”

Back against the wall, Syracuse called on its uncanny ability to go on a prolonged scoring streak that was made particularly surprising by its ineptitude early in the contest. Shots started to fall as Syracuse exploded on a 24-10 run to regain the lead 55-49.

It’s contagious according to Waiters.

“If one guy gets a spark, then the whole team sets on fire,” he said.

The guy who lit the spark was Southerland. The junior forward from Queens, N.Y. scored 10 second-half points, including two clutch threes, as Syracuse seized control of the game late.

"We got James open a couple times. He's a tremendous shooter," Boeheim said. "He can make those shots, and he made them early in the year. He struggled a little bit during the week, but he's been making them in practice.”

 "I missed my first two shots,” Southerland said. “The first one I felt was good, and the second one was kind of rushed. It's good my teammates are here for me. They're not giving up on me just because I missed two shots, and it feels good. It was a great atmosphere."

Syracuse just wouldn’t be denied late in the game.

“I thought our guys just dug down on defense, played a little bit harder and got going on offense,” Boeheim said. “It was a great comeback.”

Syracuse won despite below-average performances from its most reliable scorers. Kris Joseph scored 10 points and shot 1-of-8 from the field, with the lone made field goal coming with 2:13 remaining. Scoop Jardine, who gave way to Brandon Triche and Waiters for most of the second half, scored just two points.

Dion Waiters led the Orange with 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting and provided a much-needed jolt of energy off the bench to an otherwise out-of-sync offense.

Shabazz Napier led the Huskies with 15 points but managed just 5-of-17 shooting. Jeremy Lamb, the team's leading scorer for the season, scored 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting despite playing 40 minutes.

Syracuse greatly benefited from an advantage at the free throw line, shooting 15-of-23 to UConn’s 5-of-10. As it's done all year, Syracuse protected the ball, managing just four turnovers, with only one in the first half.  

Boeheim said it’s very difficult to play a hot team after the double-bye and a week off. Yet, late in the game Syracuse appeared fresh while the Huskies seemed to tire.

“We just wanted it more,” Waiters said.

Syracuse will tip off the Big East semifinals against Cincinnati at 7 p.m. Friday night at Madison Square Garden.


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