UConn and Syracuse got together for the 94th time Tuesday night, the 16th time at Madison Square Garden. To be certain, there have been many more pulsating and aesthetically pleasing games in this old rivalry than what became a 72-63 Syracuse victory before the usual split crowd.
The Huskies were tough, played hard. They weren’t very good, though, and Syracuse was only marginally better, opening an early double-digit lead that it seemed intent on coughing up down the stretch.
UConn wouldn’t cooperate, though, failing late to capitalize on opportunities — down seven, after trailing by as many as 17 — just like it failed to hold onto the ball early (13 first-half turnovers).
"We have to grow up,” coach Kevin Ollie said. “It's taking care of the basketball. It's playing hard, with energy. One of our spurts, Christian [Vital] just played like he wanted to do anything it took to win the game. That's what it's going to have to be. He played, he talked, and it wasn't about us making points. He just played defense, and we can't be in the mindset of ‘If I don't score, I don't play defense.' We just have to have more consistency with that, with all of our players, 1-13. It can't be about the offensive end. It's got to be about the defensive end. And then we've got to rebound. They got 14 offensive rebounds and 17 second-chance points. That first half, we weren't prepared against the zone. It's like we had never seen a zone before."
Here is how the Syracuse Post-Standard saw it.
The game story from The Courant’s Dom Amore.
Box score, quotes, etc. from UConn.It's like we had never seen a zone. — Kevin Ollie on first-half turnovers
Guards carry scoring load: Jalen Adams and Vital took control of certain segments of the game, breathing life into a UConn effort that died with an inability to capitalize on the opportunities a sloppy Syracuse team allowed. UConn did have competent, sometimes electric, guard play. Adams had 22 points, the fourth time he has scored 20-plus this season, on 8-for-13 shooting. Vital had 17 points and five assists, making 4 of 11 shots and 7 of 8 free throws.
But Adams had to play 40 minutes, Vital 37 minutes and Antwoine Anderson (three points, four turnovers) 38 minutes. Alterique Gilbert’s absence does hurt and will hurt. He’s trying to decide how to treat another shoulder injury after missing last season for the same reason.
Gilbert, injured against Michigan State, has missed three-plus games this season.
“We're missing him,” Ollie said. “I'm missing another guard. He's rehabbing and we'll just wait for what his heart tells him. He's been through a lot, multiple surgeries, and he just wants to get healthy.”
Where they stand: Syracuse now leads the all-time series 56-38 and has won nine of 16 games against UConn at Madison Square Garden.The freshman forward scored a career-high 18 points and had several highlight-reel dunks. The freshman forward scored a career-high 18 points and had several highlight-reel dunks. SEE MORE VIDEOS
Bad numbers: UConn came in averaging 12.4 turnovers per game and committed 13 in the first half (though just four in the second).
“It was like we had never seen a zone,” Ollie said.
The Huskies were 9-for-14 on free throws in the second half. UConn was out-rebounded 37-26 and allowed 14 offensive rebounds.
Second chance points: Syracuse 17, UConn 4.
“Once again we just dug ourselves too big of a hole,” Ollie said. “We didn’t come out with the defensive effort from the first half. They got offensive rebounds and out of our game plans was to keep them off the offensive [glass]. We know they are a great rebounding team, and we’ve just got to establish that from the first part of the game. In the second half, we started getting stops, we got back into the game, but it was a little too late.”
Syracuse’s two freshmen forces: Syracuse freshmen Matthew Moyer got going with a ridiculous put-back dunk in the first half and never stopped attacking the rim. He finished with 18 points and eight rebounds. He entered averaging 2.4 points and four rebounds.
Asked what was key to Moyer getting to the backboards, coach Jim Boeheim I said, "I have no idea. He's been horrible all year. Matt Moyer had a huge game. He's really struggled all year, but he got three offensive boards, he got three offensive rebounds basket tips and he was a big difference in the game."
Moyer was 7-for-9 from the field in 36 minutes. Another freshmen forward, Oshae Brissett, had 16 points and 10 rebounds. He came in averaging 12.3 and 9.7.
"Two freshmen pretty much beat us tonight," Ollie said. "They're really two good freshmen, but they're not that good. We have to do a better job. We can't let them take over the game. They did."
The UConn men's basketball team played Syracuse as part of the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017.SEE MORE VIDEOS
The scene: It was buzzing. MSG for UConn-Syracuse always is. The building was nearly packed at tip-off, and there were the typical overlapping cheers and boos, etc. In the second half, there were many empty seats, though, the thought being that many people here for primary interest in the Villanova-Gonzaga game hung around for a while and then took off at halftime of the UConn-Syracuse game. Announced attendance was 17,532.
Larrier provides answers and questions: Terry Larrier, at times, looks like the most capable player on the court. He moved well Tuesday, in and out of the zone, down the lane. But he failed to finish several opportunities and made several questionable decisions, finishing with 14 points and four turnovers.
Diarra starts: Mamdou Diarra started for the first time and played 17 minutes, scoring one point and missing all three of his shots. He did have seven rebounds, four offensive, and showed flashes of being just about the only UConn player capable of mixing it up with a much bigger Syracuse front court.