McNamara falls short again against Huskies

STORRS, CONN. – With 5 minutes and 9 seconds to play and the Orange trailing by 16, Gerry McNamara rolled off of a Craig Forth screen, finding himself an open 3-point attempt for one of the few times all game.

He squared his body and delivered a shot that hit the side of the rim, bouncing off the top of the backboard and out of bounds. The junior guard could do nothing but shrug his shoulders, sauntering back on defense as 10,167 fans at Gampel Pavilion erupted with sarcastic chants of ‘Gerry.'

McNamara missed 12 of his 16 attempts, scoring just 12 points as Connecticut (21-6, 13-3 Big East) outscored the Orange (24-6, 11-5) 51-33 in the second en route to the 88-70 victory, clinching no worse than a share of the Big East title.

"Marcus Williams did a good job of scouting McNamara," Husky coach Jim Calhoun said of his sophomore point guard. "He's played well against [Chris] Thomas and [Carl] Krauser, there has to be a correlation between his defense and they're not having good games. It's not the air conditioning."

Williams shadowed McNamara on the perimeter, and other Huskies were quick to collapse on the 6-foot-2 guard when he drove in the lane. The result was off-balance shots and a frustrated Orange scoring attack from beyond the perimeter.

McNamara missed 8-of-10 3-point attempts. His one 3-pointer in the first half came after two lucky rolls off the rim.

A struggle against the Huskies is nothing new for McNamara. In six games against Connecticut he is shooting 22 percent from the floor, and is averaging 9.6 points per game, fewer than eight points below his career average. McNamara has scored nine or fewer points in four of the six games.

"They do a good job of pressuring him and keeping guys on him," Orange coach Jim Boeheim said. "He and our guys had some good opportunities, but we can't get empty trips down the court. We had shots we usually make, but didn't convert."

McNamara was by no means the only Orange player lost on offense. The Orange shot 9 percent from three, missing 20-of-22 attempts. After withstanding an early 11-6 Husky run to open the game, Syracuse went into the locker room tied at 37; it unraveled in the second, shooting 27 percent. Connecticut, who finished the conference season with a 9-0 record after a 4-3 start, shot 65 percent.

The Huskies, frustrated by foul trouble in the first half, opened the second on a 16-6 run to break the game open after just five minutes. Rudy Gay, who saw just four minutes of playing time in the first half after picking up two quick fouls, scored 13 points in 15 minutes in the second. He finished with 16 points in just 19 minutes on the court.

Charlie Villanueva scored five points in the first 3 ½ minutes in the second to lead the Huskie run. He finished with 9 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. Denham Brown scored 21 and Marcus Williams notched a double-double with 11 points and 10 assists.

"These kids were not gonna be denied of a chance to grab that trophy and hold it up at the end," Calhoun said. "There weren't many easy shots to be had with so many long arms up there. This team is really getting better. Last year we were 12-4 and won the national title. This year we were 13-3."

The Huskies frustrated Syracuse's press and found holes in the middle of the zone in a second half in which they led by as many as 20. Connecticut scored 32 points in the paint and hit 6-of-17 from three.

Orange senior Hakim Warrick, fresh off conference player of the week honors, kept Syracuse in the game with 15 first-half points. He finished with 25.

"This game is over now, we're still in the top 25, and I think we can play against anybody in the nation," Warrick said. "It was tough how this game got away from us. It was a real physical game."

The two teams combined to commit 54 fouls. Forth, Terrence Roberts, and Darryl Watkins fouled out for the Orange.

Down 13 midway through the second half, the Orange had multiple chances to cut into the Husky lead from the foul line. In the next two minutes Warrick went 2-for-8 from the line. Shots from the foul line, like those on the floor, were hard to find for Syracuse as they made just 12-of-27 free throw attempts in the second.

McNamara made both of his two free throw attempts following a technical foul assessed on the Husky bench in the first. With time ticking down in the second half, McNamara was helpless, watching from the bench with a towel over his head. The feeling has become all too familiar.

"Our regular season ends today, and this is a tough way to go out," Louie McCroskey said. "Hopefully, this game will give us a little motivation to get focused for next week."

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