In front of 33,430 people at the Carrier Dome on Saturday afternoon, Syracuse and Connecticut put on an offensive show before it became a one-sided affair late in the second as the Orange defeated the Huskies, 85-67.
Both teams came out thinking long-distance, and each was able to convert its first two attempts from downtown. The up-and-down pace ended with UConn (15-9, 5-7 Big East) up 14-12 less than eight minutes into the half.
Then Syracuse (25-1, 12-1 Big East) reminded the country how it was playing offensively in the first part of the season on the way to a No. 1 ranking. It went on a big run.
“When you make a lot of shots, the game gets a lot easier,” said Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim. “If we would have shot our normal percentage, we would have got beat.“
SU shot about 60 percent from the field on the afternoon and finished 10-16 from long range, and both trends were evident during the initial run of the game.
The 15-3 spurt took nearly six minutes to complete and five different SU players contributed to the scoring. Scoop Jardine hit a three, James Southerland did as well – all while capturing a lead the Orange would not relinquish the rest of the way. The Huskies responded time and time again, never letting the deficit get too out of hand.
Connecticut would rally despite the deficit widening up to 10 at the end of the spurt, but the Orange extended it back out to nine at the half by scoring the last six points before the break.
By halftime, nine combined three-pointers were made and the defenses were struggling to establish themselves.
“Our offense was real fluent,” said Kris Joseph, who finished as one of four Orange players in double-figures. “Everyone’s locked in…and I think it’s translating into the games.”
After the intermission, the Huskies continued cutting away at the deficit. Tyler Olander cut the lead to just two on a pair of occasions, both after free throw conversions. Fab Melo was in foul trouble and Andre Drummond took advantage inside on the way to one of his better games of the year, before he rolled and ankle.
“Drummond did a good job, but overall it was just out offense that just made a lot of shots,” added Boeheim.
Just when the momentum seemed to be overwhelmingly in UConn’s favor – the game finally appeared to get out of hand in the same way Syracuse had done so many times this season.
The Orange had two big runs left in the tank.
C.J. Fair, who notched a career-high 12 rebounds, hit a jumper to extend the lead to four and Joseph got an open look in the corner to extend it to seven on the next trip down. Fair got the crowd to its loudest when he slammed home a picture-perfect Jardine lob soon after.
“Scoop has confidence getting me the ball right there,” said Fair. “I always try to run the court as much as possible, I looked at Scoop and we locked eyes….I had to go get it.”
Even still, Connecticut’s offense was able to keep pace.
Shabazz Napier hit a three-pointer before Jeremy Lamb did, and the deficit was once again at two. As the trend continued, Syracuse pulled away once more – this time for good.
“They were still playing catch-up,” said Jardine, who finished with game-high 21 points going along with six assists against just one turnover. “C.J. (fair) made a great drive on the baseline and I was open in the corner…”
Jardine hit that three and notched another one with six minutes remaining to begin an 18-1 run by Syracuse to close the door on the afternoon while making the game look like a blowout on paper.
“Everything clicked after that,” said Boeheim. “We can’t play much better offensively.
“We were able to finish offensively as best we could.”
The final rally-attempt by UConn was stumped by giving up the ball more times than putting it in the basket. Over the last five minutes, the Huskies turned it over three times, while scoring just five points. Meanwhile, Syracuse scored 16 points, nine coming from Dion Waiters down the stretch.