Syracuse zones out UConn at Madison Square Garden
Updated 12:37 pm, Wednesday, December 6, 2017
NEW YORK — For a few brief, shining moments midway through the second half, it was almost like 2009 again. Or 2011. Or 2006. Or any of the great UConn-Syracuse battles at Madison Square Garden over the years.
Christian Vital hit a 3-pointer, then came up with a steal and hit Jalen Adams for a layup, and the chant of “Let’s Go Huskies!” filled the Madison Square Garden air.
A few moments later, Adams took a baseline jumper that could have brought UConn from what had once been a 17-point deficit to within seven and really charged up the Husky faithful that comprised about half the crowd of 17,532.
“It was right there,” coach Kevin Ollie would say afterwards.
But Adams missed. Eric Cobb fouled out on Syracuse’s next possession, and Frank Howard hit a pair of free throws.
Before long, the chant of “Let’s Go Orange!” took over the World’s Most Famous Arena.
UConn would get back to within seven in the final minutes and had chances to get closer, but couldn’t take care of the Orange’s multiple turnovers down the stretch, and Syracuse emerged with a 72-63 victory in a Jimmy V Classic battle on Tuesday night.
“I thought both teams played incredibly hard,” said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. “It wasn’t great basketball, a lot of missed shots, missed opportunities, some bad turnovers both ways. But, both teams played as hard as you can play.”
Ultimately, the Orange’s lengthy, 2-3 zone was too much for UConn to handle. The Huskies turned the ball over 13 times in the first half alone and 17 times overall. They were outrebounded 37-26 and allowed Syracuse to score 17 second-chance points.
“We haven’t rebounded at this level since Derrick Coleman,” said Boeheim.
UConn fell to 6-3; Syracuse improved to 7-1.
“Once again, we just dug ourselves too big of a hole,” said Ollie. “We didn’t come out with the defensive effort in the first half. One of our game plans was to keep them off the offensive rebounds, knowing they’re a great offensive rebounding team. We’ve just got to establish that from the first part of the game. I thought in the second half, we started getting stops and we got back in the game. But it was a little bit too late.”
UConn led 3-2 after a Terry Larrier 3-pointer 56 seconds into the contest. It never led again.
The Orange led by as many as 17 points late in the first half and went into the break with a 40-29 lead. The Orange shot nearly 50 percent from the floor and went to the line 18 times, knocking down 14 of them, in the opening half.
At times, the Huskies looked at Syracuse’s zone as if it was Chinese Algebra, never getting any easy baskets.
“It was like we had never seen zone before,” said Ollie.
“I don’t think it took us by surprise,” Adams insisted. “We knew they had a lot of length. We got too excited in the first half and were reckless with the ball. In the second half, we turned it down, but still had costly turnovers.”
The Orange got sloppy in the latter half (eight turnovers) and UConn got fairly close — with chances to get closer. Mamadou Diarra stepped to the foul line with 6:07 left and a chance to pull the Huskies to within six. But the freshman forward missed both free throws.
By the time the Huskies had edged back to within seven within the final minute or so, it was too little, too late.
“It came down to us not getting enough stops,” said Vital, who finished with 17 points and five rebounds.
Adams led the Huskies with 22 points and Larrier added a quiet 14. Both Cobb (six points, three boards in 17 minutes) and Diarra (one point, seven boards his first collegiate start) fouled out.
“I thought Eric Cobb did a good job,” said Ollie. “If I want to talk about one light in the game it’s that he can get in that four-hole and really operate. Some of those fouls are just tired fouls. If we can get him back in condition — he was out for about 12 days. But that’s a light right there. So, when we see zone, putting him in the four-hole where he can operate. I thought he did the best job out of all our bigs.”
Tyus Battle led Syracuse with 22 and freshman Matthew Moyer, who entered the game averaging just 2.4 per contest, poured in a career-best 18 — many of them on impressive, putback dunks.
Fellow frosh Oshae Brissett added 16 points and 10 rebounds.
“Two freshmen beat us,” said Ollie. “They’re two good freshmen, but they’re not that good.”
Syracuse survived a horrible game from point guard Frank Howard, who shot 1-for-10 and turned the ball over nine times.
Syracuse now owns a 56-38 all-time edge over the Huskies.
“It was a great rivalry,” said Boeheim. “We had great games, great memories. But, when you’re in a league, you’re in a league, and that’s what’s important. That’s just the way it is. But, it was fun coming here. They had a huge group of fans, we had a huge group of fans. I don’t think any two schools are gonna put more people in the Garden than what we put in there tonight.”
UConn is now 0-3all-time in the Jimmy V Classic. The Huskies lost to NC State (who featured a freshman guard named Rodney Purvis) on Dec. 4, 2012, and fell to Maryland on Dec. 8, 2015.
Once again, Alterique Gilbert didn’t play, watching the game from the bench in street clothes. It’s the third straight game that Gilbert, who is battling shoulder woes, has sat out.
“We’re missing him,” said Ollie. “I had to play Antwoine Anderson 38 minutes and Jalen Adams 40 minutes. I had to play Christian Vital 37 minutes. Al is rehabbing, and we’ll just wait for what his heart tells him. He’s been through a lot — multiple surgeries. I just think he wants to get healthy. There’s no answer yet, we’ll just wait for Al. The ultimate decision-maker is gonna be Al. But at the end of the day, other guys have to step up.”
UConn’s next game is on Saturday at 2 p.m. against Coppin State at Gampel Pavilion. After that, the Huskies take an 11-day break for exams before flying out to Tuscon, Arizona to face Arizona on Dec. 21.