Game Notes: UConn at Syracuse
A death blow to UConn?
by Rachel Stern
With just over 14 minutes to play and Syracuse up by 14, it appeared the Orange had everything under control.
Connecticut struggled to score. The Orange bigs were having their way down low. The Huskies were busy shuffling players in and out, looking for the right combination.
After two free throws by Andy Rautins, Jerome Dyson tried to make something happen. Dyson used a quick first step to get past the outstretched arms of Rautins on the right wing of the Syracuse zone. Dyson slashed in the lane and Rautins reached back. The whistle blew. The crowd booed.
With 14:14 left in the half Rautins picked up his fourth personal foul and headed to the bench with his team up 48-34.
Syracuse was forced to play without their senior leader for about seven minutes. Led by a series of Jerome Dyson drives and Kemba Walker pull-up jumpers, the Huskies stormed back and cut the Syracuse lead to three.
Connecticut stayed close and tied the game at 65 with 2:14 to play. After a questionable timeout was granted to Boeheim with 36 seconds remaining, as the ball appeared to have already left Scoop Jardine’s hands, Wes Johnson and Kris Joseph secured the Orange victory with four big free throws.
The Orange are off to their best start in school history and kept UConn from getting their first road victory in the Big East.
Afterwards, for Jim Boeheim, the importance of Rautins was clear.
“There is no doubt in my mind on how important Andy is to our basketball team. When he was out of the game we lost complete focus of what to do on offense. He came right back in and made a couple of huge plays right away and got us established.”
Roommates Kris Joseph and Wes Johnson arrive outside the Dome two hours before tip off. They sign autographs for about eight fans waiting in front of the entrance gate.
About two hours before the game it is the Syracuse University dance team and Brandon Triche on the court. Triche is putting up jumpers with three ball boys rebounding for him, as the dance team practices their routine.
All the talk in the media room is about the Syracuse-Villanova game on Saturday, February 27. The game is already sold out, as 34,616 tickets have been sold. In the media room the shot-clock keeper and the official score-keeper joke that they may have to pay for their seats.
Big Arinze Onuaku is getting loose during warm-ups. He has worked up quite a sweat and is dancing. He has had two big games in a row, scoring his season high against Providence and then playing well at Cincinnati, so the big man is feeling good.
Rautins is on fire during warm ups. He and Mookie Jones drain three-pointer after three-pointer, one swish after the next.
45 minutes before tip off the Huskies gather at the free throw line around Jerome Dyson. He talks to his squad for about five minutes and then they head to the locker room.
Syracuse fans gather around Otto the Orange to get pictures with the mascot.
Syracuse and UConn are sporting new jerseys tonight. The latest fashion from Nike is called the Nike Hyper Elite and are the lightest college basketball uniform the company has designed. The white Syracuse jerseys have an orange line around the waist and neckline. Each jersey has a panel on the back which is school-specific. For Syracuse the back panel depicts the Carrier Dome, Carnegie Library and the Hall of Languages. For UConn, the back has two stars, three oak leaves and two acorns, the Husky mascot and the year of establishment- 1881.
Syracuse Marathon Men t-shirts are visible in the crowd to honor the historic six-overtime game the two teams played last time they met.
For the seventh straight game, still no sign of Jim Calhoun, as longtime Holy Cross head coach and current Huskie assistant, George Blaney is on the sideline.
Freshman point guard Brandon Triche looks more aggressive than usual. He opens the game with an aggressive drive, gets the offensive board and gets fouled. After a Stanley Robinson two-handed dunk off a pretty pass from Walker, Triche drives again, drawing another foul.
Blaney is making several early subs for the Huskies. Gavin Edwards enters the game just a minute in, then Charles Okwandu enters a bit later. All season UConn has struggled with its lack of depth, as Walker, Dyson and Robinson are the only three staples.
With 15:56 to play, the game is knotted at 5. Both teams appear sluggish and are a combined 3-12 from the floor.
After a series of turnovers from both squads, including two errant passes, one from Edwards and one from Rautins, Jardine puts in a high-arching floater to put SU up 13-11 with 13 minutes to play.
Dyson drives aggressively, but Onuaku grabs the ball from him and dishes up to Johnson who cans a three from the right wing. The crowd erupts. But Dyson comes right back and hits a three. Before UConn can get back, though, Joseph flies in for a big two-handed slam on the left side. The Orange are up six with 10:16 to play in the first half.
Combined, the teams have committed 11 turnovers with 8:40 left in the half. Passes have sailed into the stands, as each team has been careless with the basketball.
Robinson is living above the rim. He finishes the alley-oop from Dyson, then gets another dunk after a Walker steal.
Syracuse picks up its zone defense and forces UConn into a shot clock violation. After a three ball from Triche off a kick out from Onuaku, Walker answers with a three ball of his own to cut the Syracuse lead to six with 6:10 to play.
After a Rautins beautiful no-look pass inside to Onuaku, who jams it home and then an offensive foul on UConn, the crowd goes crazy. All the big heads come out—huge cardboard cut outs of Rautins, Joseph, Onuaku and Johnson.
After another Robinson dunk and a couple turnovers, Walker is in heaven. The Bronx native loves the fast pace and he is all smiles with 4 minutes to play and Syracuse up 32-24.
Robinson shows he is not just a dunker and cans a three from the left wing. That is his first non-dunk of the ball game.
Jardine is brought in off the bench for the final 17 seconds of the half and it pays off. He crosses over twice and shakes Robinson. He covers the ball like a running back and lays it in high, high off the top of the backboard on the right side to give Syracuse a seven-point lead at the half.
Robinson has really been the Huskies only offense. At the half he has 14 points, four boards and four highlight reel dunks. He is 5-10 from the floor.
Walker has made things happen at point for UConn. He has four points, four assists and two steals. His backcourt mate, Dyson, has been quiet, as he has been a bit busy chasing Rautins around screen after screen. Walker is so quick, as he has really sliced through the zone with relative ease.
Syracuse has dominated inside. Jackson is 4-7 from the floor with nine points and four boards. Onuaku has been solid in the post, as he has five points, seven boards and four blocks.
Triche seems much more aggressive. He already has eight points and four assists, including a perfect one-handed bounce pass to Onuaku.
The teams have combined for 21 turnovers at the half.
Edwards starts the second half for the Huskies. Blaney is just hoping to get the right group of guys out there together.
Syracuse starts where they left off. Jackson backs down a much slimmer Edwards and hits the lay up and gets fouled. Blaney is not happy, as the relatively calm coach stares at the ceiling and walks toward the end of the bench.
Syracuse extends the lead to 12 after a Jardine floater in the lane and a Rautins three ball from the right wing. UConn calls a timeout and the coaching staff gathers on the three-point line.
UConn gets its bigs involved. They run Edwards to the free throw line and have the other post down low. Edwards does a great job of catching and dumping down to Okwandu for an easy dunk. Syracuse is up 10.
After Rautins picks up his fourth foul with 14 minutes to play, Jackson goes right at Edwards on the block for a soft hook shot. The Syracuse bigs can get any position they want. They receive the ball from the guards right under the hoop.
As Rautins stands on the sideline, helpless, Dyson and Walker start to go to work. Dyson hits a tough pull up in the lane off the glass, then hits a nice floater off of a Robinson steal. Boeheim is unhappy and calls a timeout with his team up 10 with 11 minutes to play.
Now Walker gets in on the action. He slices through the top of the zone and sticks a pull up jumper from the left elbow. After a couple Syracuse turnovers and an Edwards dunk inside, Boeheim calls Jardine over to the bench and gives him an earful while pointing at him. Syracuse is up six.
After the lead is cut to three, Rautins returns. He dishes inside to Jackson, who is fouled. When it seems like Syracuse is going to pull away after a Rautins free throw, block and Joseph finger roll, Walker silences the crowd with a soft pull up on the left elbow. SU is up 59-55 with six minutes to left.
It appears as if UConn has finally found the right combination. Walker, Dyson, Robinson, Edwards and Alex Oriakhi are gelling together. Blaney sends Okwandu to the scorers table with six minutes to play, but calls him right back to the bench.
UConn continues to run a high-ball screen for Walker above the three point line on the left side. He seems to be able to break anyone down off the dribble. He breaks back the screen, draws defenders and hits Dyson for the three from the top of the key. With four minutes to play Syracuse clings to a 61-60 lead.
A Johnson two-handed slam on the left block gets the crowd wild, but Dyson cans a three on a pass from Walker to tie the game at 65 with two minutes to go. The Dome is silenced.
While this is not exactly a six-overtime special like last time, UConn has really done a great job to fight back.
With 45 seconds to go, Syracuse calls a timeout, tied at 65. Rautins hoists a quick three from the right corner and misses. Jackson gets the board, dishes it out to Jardine, who drives the lane aggressively. Boeheim tries to call a timeout, but Scoop puts up a floater. Longtime referee John Cahill grants Boeheim the timeout as the ball is in the air. A questionable call at a key moment.
Robinson fouls Johnson away from the ball and with 33 seconds to play, Johnson hits both clutch free throws, despite a sore jammed thumb on his right hand.
After Walker drives the lane and dishes to Dyson for a deep three that falls short, Joseph hits clutch free throws and secures the victory for the Orange.
Final score: 72-67 Syracuse.
Boeheim on why he called a timeout at the end—“I saw Scoop with the ball. I didn’t look at the rest of it, but I don’t think I had to. I wondered where he was going, but he didn’t know where he was going. That’s why I called timeout.”
Blaney on the questionable timeout call—“I asked the officials one time Jimmy Boeheim has 800 and whatever number wins he has and that he didn’t need any help from them tonight. He has enough wins.”
Edwards on the new jerseys—“I don’t even know what to compare it to. It doesn’t feel like an actual shirt. It is crazy, the sweat doesn’t weigh it down or anything, it is crazy.”
Dyson finished with 19 points, five assists and eight rebounds, after just scoring just six at the half.
Robinson finished with 16 points and seven boards, but registered just two points in the second half.
Walker played a steady game and had 14 points, six assists and four steals. He only committed two turnovers in a game full of them, while handling the ball for 38 minutes.
Edwards played well off the bench and showed Blaney that he may be that fifth guy they need. He scored 12 points, had two steals, two blocks and four boards in 37 minutes.
Syracuse was led by big man Jackson who put up 15 points, seven boards and three blocks.
All-American candidate Johnson had 13 points and nine boards.
Super-sub Joseph chipped in with 14 points and six boards.
Syracuse spread it around, as usual. All seven players who played scored at least seven points.
The Orange committed 20 turnovers. UConn gave away 15 turnovers.