Then the team that squandered a 17-point lead at Pittsburgh little more than one week ago resurfaced. Connecticut (15-5, 7-3) outscored the Orange (21-3, 8-3) 18-5 the rest of the way, pulling out a 74-66 win.
"This is as hard as we've played all year," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "We just tried to get the ball to Hak down the stretch, he was bumped, and we had two turnovers in the post. That was the game."
Hakim Warrick, saddled with foul trouble for much of the second half, was forced to sit after committing his fourth foul with 11 minutes to play. He returned at the 5:38 mark, the game tied at 61, and the Orange immediately went to work feeding their reliable forward in the post.
Trailing by two with three minutes to play, two Syracuse entry pass attempts to Warrick were picked off by Husky defenders. The second led a Husky fast break, and following a missed shot, Connecticut center Josh Boone grabbed the offensive board and scored.
The Huskies led 69-65 and would extend their lead on the foul line. Connecticut made 22-of-32 free throws, outscoring the Orange by 13 at the line.
"For us, that is the best game we've had this season, especially considering it was on the road, and we started two freshman, two sophomores, and a junior," Husky coach Jim Calhoun said. "Their zone was incredibly effective and we've seen that press work so many times. It did on us, until we got some poise, and were able to take advantage of it."
Syracuse went to the press like they did against Rutgers to get themselves back in the game and neutralize the Husky's vaunted fast breaking ability. Trailing 49-42 at 15:28, the Orange went on an 8-1 run in the next two minutes. They forced the young Huskies into two turnovers, taking back the lead at 50-49. The Orange forced 19 turnovers in the game.
Connecticut bounced back by finding holes in the press and creating an advantage on the other end. The Huskies went to the line 21 times in a second half in which they shot 55 percent from the floor.
The Orange anticipated a battle in the paint and on the boards from Connecticut's overpowering frontcourt, and the Huskies did not disappoint. Following a three-game stretch in which he scored just 15 points, forward Charlie Villanueva notched his seventh double-double of the season with a season-high 21 points and 10 rebounds. Villanueva was 9-of-14 from the floor, frustrating the Orange defenders with his length and ability to create on the offensive end.
"I told Charlie that the only thing separating him from having good games is to play hard, because he is too talented," Calhoun said. "He's long, he blocks shots, and he made some shots I haven't seen before. I told him he was going to step up, and we made sure we got the ball got inside."
Freshman forward Rudy Gay was also impressive for the Huskies, matching his career high with 18 points. Gay was 2-of-5 from three and went 4-for-4 at the line in 36 minutes.
The Orange forwards were equally as effective. Sophomore Terrence Roberts came off the bench firing in the first, scoring eight points and pulling down four rebounds. He finished with 12 points, fouling out with 3:15 to play.
Roberts highlighted the scoring for the Syracuse bench, which contributed 23 points, two days after scoring only four against Notre Dame. Billy Edelin scored seven, and Darryl Watkins added four points and four rebounds.
Roberts was one of five Syracuse players with four or more fouls. Warrick finished with 16 points, and seven rebounds, and Josh Pace added 14, making seven of his nine shot attempts.
"Josh was tremendous," Boeheim said. "We just missed so many opportunities when we had the lead. We missed three or four lay-ups, and missed some shots we usually make."
McNamara, a player Calhoun admitted gave him nightmares after his heroic second half performance against the Irish Saturday, was pressured and forced into taking bad shots the entire game. He was held below double digits in scoring for just the sixth time this season, scoring nine on 4-of-18 shooting. He missed 8-of-9 from three.
McNamara and the Orange will need to rebound. Syracuse faces three top 25 teams in their next three games, including a much anticipated rematch against Pittsburgh, and a Feb. 19 trip to Boston College to play the undefeated Eagles.
"Like I've said before, we're not there yet," Boeheim said. "We're still struggling to get all the pieces to fit well. Connecticut's a very good team, and our young guys will learn."
In a game of runs, Connecticut outlasts Syracuse
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