|Syracuse's Fab Melo, second from right, battles for a rebound with Connecticut's Jeremy Lamb, right, and Andre Drummond during the quarterfinal round of the Big East NCAA college basketball conference tournament in New York, Thursday, March 8, 2012. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)|
No. 2 Syracuse beats Connecticut 58-55
NEW YORK—Syracuse and Connecticut had another memorable meeting in the Big East tournament.
The latest game kept Syracuse's strong season moving toward a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and ended Connecticut's memorable postseason streak.
Dion Waiters had 18 points and James Southerland scored all 10 of his points over the final 8 minutes to lead No. 2 Syracuse to a 58-55 victory Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament.
The top-seeded Orange (31-1) won their 11th straight game overall and advanced to face fourth-seeded Cincinnati in the semifinals on Friday night at Madison Square Garden. The Bearcats beat No. 13 Georgetown 72-70 in double-overtime.
This was their first game after earning a double-bye into the quarterfinals.
"I hate sitting around all week, and it's very difficult," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "I'm glad that we were able to get a win. We haven't played that many games and we need to play again. Tomorrow's game will help us, but this was a tremendous comeback. This team has been very good down the stretch all year, and that was the case today."
The Huskies had their 13-game postseason winning streak snapped and ended a chance at making history for a second straight year.
Shabazz Napier had 15 points and Andre Drummond added 14 for the ninth-seeded Huskies (20-13), who were trying to duplicate last year's first-ever five-game run to the Big East tournament title that was followed by a six-game streak that brought the school its third national championship.
"The anguish I feel is disappointment for them," Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said of his team. "They were primed mentally today to do something very special and almost pulled it off. ... No one can tell you that it wasn't a good team who was wearing blue today. Did we shoot great? No. Did we make great decisions? No. Did we play with great heart and great intensity and did we play for us and each other? Without a doubt, and I couldn't be prouder of them."
In the semifinals last year, Connecticut beat the Orange 76-71 in overtime. In the previous meeting in the tournament in 2009, Syracuse won 127-117 in a six-overtime quarterfinal.
This one ended in 40 minutes, but there once again was the chance at playing past the regulation buzzer.
The Huskies, who beat DePaul and West Virginia in the first two rounds, went 7 minutes without a field goal and during that span Syracuse was able to take the lead for good on a fallaway jumper by Waiters that made it 48-47 with 5:41 to play.
Southerland, who came into the game averaging 6.6 points, hit his second 3-pointer 16 seconds later to make it 51-47. Drummond converted an alley-oop pass from Napier with 2:32 left, the first time the Huskies were within three points.
The last time they were that close was 58-55 with 4.6 seconds left on a reverse by Drummond. After a timeout, the Orange were able to inbound the ball and run out the clock.
"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. He looked good the last game, made a big one, and we think he can make those shots and be a factor for us, a big factor for us the rest of the way. So it was good for him to get those looks.
"Our guys are very unselfish. They found him in there and got him the ball."
And Southerland, a 6-foot-8 junior from New York, knew what to do when they did.
"It felt really great out there, especially being at home and all," he said of playing in front of a sellout crowd of 20,057. "I missed my first two shots. The first one I felt was good, 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."
Neither team shot well -- Connecticut 34.4 percent, Syracuse 38.5 percent -- and the Huskies controlled the boards with a 46-34 advantage, 18-8 on the offensive end, with Drummond grabbing 10, seven offensive.
"Both teams struggled shooting the ball, and both teams are very good defensively," Boeheim said. "We couldn't really get anything going offensively, and then we changed something just a little bit. Got a little bit more space."
Syracuse had a big advantage at the free throw line, finishing 15 of 23 compared to the Huskies' 5 of 10.
The Orange swept the two regular season meetings, the second 71-69 at Connecticut. Syracuse has an 8-6 advantage in the teams' Big East tournament meetings and have won six of the last seven, the only loss in last year's game. The Orange are 4-0 against Connecticut in the quarterfinals.
The game pitted two coaches who have had their share of struggles this season.
Boeheim, who went through the child-abuse charges and firing of longtime assistant Bernie Fine and recent allegations of former players in the program failing drug tests, won his 887th game, second on the all-time list.
"This was reported five years ago, and we're waiting for them to finish the process," Boeheim said when asked about the drug tests. "If things were bothering us we wouldn't be 31-1. Nothing bothers us. We come ready to play. That's what you should do in life. Everybody gets bothered. Everybody has problems. I'm much more concerned about my wife being mad at me than I am anything else, to tell you the truth."
About 3 hours after Boeheim spoke at the news conference the NCAA released a statement clarifying the time frame.
"The NCAA enforcement staff received a self-report from Syracuse University on October 27, 2010," the organization said.
Calhoun was suspended for the first three conference games for failure to maintain control of his program when it was charged with NCAA violations and he missed eight games with back problems, returning four games ago following spinal surgery. The Huskies won his first three games back, bringing him to 873 wins, sixth on the all-time list.
"I love Jim Boeheim like a brother, and through everything else, and I've told people this through the whole year, including other things that have gone on, he's done an incredible job coaching his team and being unselfish and giving to each other, and they're just a terrific basketball team, capable in my opinion of winning a national championship," Calhoun said.