Less than two weeks after the Orange narrowly edged Connecticut in Storrs, Conn., top-seeded Syracuse needed a late second-half surge to secure a 58-55 victory over the Huskies in a Big East quarterfinal game Thursday afternoon.
Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier hit a three-pointer with 18 minutes to go that gave the Huskies their first lead since the score was 3-2, and it ignited a 15-4 run that left the Huskies up 39-31 before Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim called timeout with 14 minutes remaining.
But the Orange, and specifically forwards Dion Waiters (team-high 18 points) and James Southerland, wouldn’t wilt down the stretch. Waiters sandwiched a tremendous fadeaway jumper from the top of the key between two three-pointers by Southerland, an 8-0 run that gave Syracuse the lead for good.
"I would be shocked if Connecticut didn’t win two games in the NCAA tournament — at the minimum,” Orange Coach Jim Boeheim told reporters after the game (and also said he thinks Peyton Manning should go to the New York Jets).
Connecticut hadn’t lost a postseason game since the 2010 Big East tournament after winning five games in five days at last year’s conference tournament and following that up by capturing the national championship. This was just the fourth game back for Huskies Coach Jim Calhoun since undergoing back surgery last week. It appears with two wins in New York this week, his team has done enough to secure an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament on Selection Sunday.
Syracuse will face the winner of Thursday’s game between fifth-seeded Georgetown and No. 4 seed Cincinnati in a Big East semifinal game Friday night. But perhaps more important for Orange fans is the fact that no team has ever won a national championship in men's basketball after losing the first game in its conference tournament.
In other action, we may have seen Illinois Coach Bruce Weber’s swan song at the Big Ten tournament. The ninth-seeded Illini were bounced by No. 8 seed Iowa, 64-61, in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament Thursday afternoon. The loss left Illinois with a 17-15 record this year, and speculation about Weber’s job security has been rampant in recent weeks.
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