The Orange came out of the gates fairly strong, getting out to an early 8-4 lead following a Paul Harris putback with just under four minutes played. A three pointer by Josh Wright and five quick points gave Syracuse a 16-9 advantage with 9:50 to play, but back-to-back Craig Austrie triples keyed a 7-0 run for UConn as the Huskies took a 17-16 lead with 7:26 left in the first half.
Paul Harris took control for the Orange over the next several minutes, snaring rebounds, scoring tough buckets, and showing great court vision as the Orange regained the lead at 25-22 on a layup by the freshman with just over three minutes before the break. Austrie knocked down another three to knot things up, but Mookie Watkins knocked down a jumper to give the Orange a 27-25 lead with 2:19 to play.
Stanley Robinson made 1-of-2 free throws and AJ Price knocked down a jumper as the Orange went cold over the last two minutes of the half to take a 28-27 lead heading into the break. Throughout much of the first half, the Orange appeared to be the better team, but poor offensive execution and surprisingly strong three point shooting by the Huskies allowed Jim Calhoun’s young squad to take the lead going into the locker room.
Another problem plaguing the Orange during much of the first half was the foul situation with the team’s few bigs, with Mookie Watkins picking up three fouls in the first half and finding himself on the pine early in the second, after picking up his fourth foul on a questionable offensive call less than 30 seconds after the start of the second half.
Harris entered the game in place of the foul addled Watkins and came out playing just as well as he had finished the first half, converting a three-point-play to give the Orange a 30-28 lead 52 seconds into the second half. Robinson and Eric Devendorf started a flurry of jumpers, with Austrie knocking down another triple and Demetris Nichols and Jerome Dyson each hitting jumpers as the teams traded buckets and UConn extended to a 37-35 lead.
Terrence Roberts got his lone bucket got his lone bucket at the 14:48 mark to make it a 40-39 lead in favor of the Huskies, and a tough bucket by Nichols gave the lead back to Syracuse at 41-40 a minute and a half later. Jeff Adrien and Nichols went back and forth over the next three minutes, with the Connecticut forward scoring six to Nichols’ five points as UConn tied things up at 46 apiece with just under 11 minutes to play.
Terrence Roberts scores his only basket of the game
After a Marcus Johnson gave the Huskies a 55-53 lead, Nichols scored on a jumper and Harris knocked down a pair of free throws following a TV timeout to make it 57-55 in favor of the Orange, but that’s the last time that Syracuse would find itself in the lead all night. The Huskies took advantage of some sloppy play by the Orange to finish the game on a 10-3 run. The Orange did not score a field goal in the final 7:20 of the game, getting their final five points from the free throw line over that span.
Syracuse was plagued all night by fouls, with Watkins and Roberts each fouling out and Nichols and Matt Gorman each getting into deep foul trouble. Had the Huskies not been so dismal from the charity stripe, the game may well have gotten out of hand early. Connecticut attempted 37 free throws (making just 19) to 14 attempts for the Orange, who knocked down 12 of their attempts as a team.
Four players reached double-figures for the Huskies, with Austrie scoring 14 points to lead the way. Adrien made just 3-of-11 shots from the field and only 6-of-14 from the line but finished with 12 points and a dozen rebounds, and Price scored 12 points, with 10 coming in the first half. Marcus Johnson scored 10 points for the Huskies, who out-rebounded Syracuse 43-27, with 17 of those boards coming on the offensive glass.
Nichols scored a game-high 20 points on 8-of-16 shooting, and the Orange suffered down the stretch with their failure to get the ball to their top scorer. Eric Devendorf scored 13 points, but was one of the main culprits in the loss with five turnovers, including three costly giveaways in the final moments of the game. On several occasions late in the game, Devo made poor decisions that gave the ball back to the Huskies when the Orange were in dire need of a bucket.
Harris had one of his better games in an Orange uniform in the loss, scoring 13 points and grabbing a team-high 10 boards, his fifth double-double of the season. Interestingly, Josh Wright played just 17 minutes despite hitting two shots early. Of course, with Watkins and Roberts getting into foul trouble early, it’s hardly a surprise that Jim Boeheim, forced to go with the smaller lineup, opted to go with the young Harris in lieu of the smaller Wright in order to make up for the team’s rebounding deficiencies.
Overall, it was a tough game for the Orange. Based on stats alone, an impartial observer would think that the Orange had no business being in the game, what with the rebounding margin, free throw attempt margin, and the fact that Syracuse had only five assists against 12 turnovers. Still, despite that, Syracuse appeared to have control of the game at more than a few times during the course of the contest.
So, what happened? The same mistakes that have plagued the Orange killed them yet again. First, rebounding on the defensive glass continues to be an enormous problem. This Connecticut team is not the same as in years past, and Jim Calhoun’s young front line is not the dominant force it usually is. However, the Orange still gave up 17 offensive boards, with the foul trouble of Watkins and Roberts no doubt playing a role.
In addition, the poor ballhandling and decision making of the Syracuse guards, particularly with Josh Wright more or less relegated to the bench for the night, was again poor. To qualify that statement, the poor decision making came primarily as the game wore on. After Connecticut took the lead in the second half, the horrible thought process of the Syracuse guards kicked in. On consecutive sequences, the Orange turned the ball over and Paul Harris rushed a bad shot along the baseline (an airball) as the Huskies extended the lead.
Then, with the outcome still in doubt, Devendorf committed three key turnovers with his careless ballhandling and passing, more or less killing any chance at regaining the momentum, and giftwrapping the Connecticut victory. The fact that Nichols, who played a solid all-around game and shot the ball with confidence, including some strong takes to the hoop, barely touched the ball over the final 10 minutes says two things: first, that Nichols still does not have the dominating personality needed to be a go-to guy and truly clutch performer who really demands the ball, and second, that the Orange still do not have the smarts as a team to get the ball where it needs to be with the game on the line.
Eric Devendorf tries to drive the lane.
It would be nice to say that this is a learning experience for the Orange, but at this point the trends are all too familiar. This team should have learned by now where to get the ball, and how to protect it. It should have learned to keep active on defense with hands up against shooters (UConn, generally a poor three point shooting team, at one point knocked down 7-of-9 from deep, finishing 8-of-23 as a team). This team should realize by now that where it gets hurt the most is on the glass, with opposing teams doing far too much damage with second and third chance points.
Yet, despite these recurring trends, this team just does not seem to get it. The same flaws come out every game, and this is a Syracuse team that, despite owning a 16-8 overall record, simply does not seem to have the capability to correct those all too common mistakes.
A close road loss to Connecticut is not usually something that Syracuse fans should really worry about, but this is not your usual Connecticut team, and at this point, Orange fans have every right to be wary about where this Syracuse season is headed. Things are looking more and more bleak in the Salt City this year.