By DAVID BORGES
New Haven Register
NEW YORK â€” 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 University of Connecticut-Syracuse menâ€™s basketball 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 â€śLetâ€™s Go Huskies!â€ť filled the Madison Square Garden air.
A few moments later, Adams took a base-line 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 fans.
â€śIt was right there,â€ť coach Kevin Ollie would say afterward.
But Adams missed. Eric Cobb fouled out on Syracuseâ€™s next possession, and Frank Howard hit a pair of free throws.
Before long, the chant of â€śLetâ€™s Go Orange!â€ť took over The Worldâ€™s Most Famous Arena.
UConn would get back to within seven in the final minutes and had chances to get closer, but couldnâ€™t take care of the Orangeâ€™s multiple turnovers down the stretch and Syracuse emerged with a 72-63 victory in a Jimmy V Classic battle on Tuesday night.
â€śI thought both teams played incredibly hard,â€ť said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. â€śIt wasnâ€™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.â€ť
Ultimately, the Orangeâ€™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 out-rebounded 37-26 and allowed Syracuse to score 17 second-chance points.
â€śWe havenâ€™t rebounded at this level since Derrick Coleman,â€ť said Boeheim.
UConn fell to 6-2 while Syracuse improved to 7-1.
â€śOnce again, we just dug ourselves too big of a hole,â€ť said Ollie. â€śWe didnâ€™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 theyâ€™re a great offensive rebounding team. Weâ€™ve just got to establish that from the first part of the game.
â€śI thought in the second half, we started getting stops and we got back in the game. But it was a little bit too late.â€ť
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 Syracuseâ€™s zone as if it was Chinese Algebra, never getting any easy baskets.
â€śIt was like we had never seen zone before,â€ť said Ollie.
â€śI donâ€™t think it took us by surprise,â€ť Adams insisted. â€śWe 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.â€ť
The Orange got sloppy in the latter half (8 turnovers) and UConn got fairly close â€” with chances to get closer. Mamadou Diarra stepped to the foul line with 6:07 left and a chance to pull the Huskies 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.
â€śIt came down to us not getting enough stops,â€ť 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 (6 points, 3 boards in 17 minutes) and Diarra (1 point, 7 boards in his first collegiate start) fouled out.
â€śI thought Eric Cobb did a good job,â€ť said Ollie. â€śIf I want to talk about one light in the game itâ€™s that he can get in that 4-hole and really operate. Some of those fouls are just tired fouls. If we can get him back in condition â€” he was out for about 12 days. But thatâ€™s a light right there.
â€śSo, when we see zone, putting him in the 4-hole where he can operate. I thought he did the best job out of all our bigs.â€ť
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 â€” many of them on impressive, put-back dunks.
Fellow frosh Oshae Brissett added 16 points and 10 rebounds.
â€śTwo freshmen beat us,â€ť said Ollie. â€śTheyâ€™re two good freshmen, but theyâ€™re not that good.â€ť
Syracuse survived a horrible game from point guard Frank Howard, who shot 1-for-10 and turned the ball over nine times.
Notes: Syracuse now owns a 56-38 all-time edge over the Huskies.
â€śIt was a great rivalry,â€ť said Boeheim. â€śWe had great games, great memories. But, when youâ€™re in a league, youâ€™re in a league, and thatâ€™s whatâ€™s important. Thatâ€™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 donâ€™t think any two schools are gonnaâ€™ put more people in the Garden than what we put in there tonight.â€ť
UConn is now 0-3 all-time in the Jimmy V Classic. The Huskies lost to NC State (who featured a freshman guard named Rodney Purvis) on December 4, 2012, and fell to Maryland on December 8, 2015.
Once again, Alterique Gilbert didnâ€™t play, watching the game from the bench in street clothes. Itâ€™s the third straight game that Gilbert, who is battling shoulder woes, has sat out.
â€śWeâ€™re missing him,â€ť said Ollie. â€śI had to play Antwoine Anderson 38 minutes and Jalen Adams 40 minutes. I had to play Christian Vital 37 minutes. Al is rehabbing, and weâ€™ll just wait for what his heart tells him. Heâ€™s been through a lot â€” multiple surgeries. I just think he wants to get healthy. Thereâ€™s no answer yet, weâ€™ll just wait for Al. The ultimate decision-maker is gonnaâ€™ be Al. But at the end of the day, other guys have to step up.â€ť
UConnâ€™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 December 21.
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