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Jeff Eisenberg

To snap a four-game losing streak, Syracuse gets defensive

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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It took 11 days and more than 120 minutes of game action, but Syracuse finally held a lead again on Wednesday night.

Even more importantly, the Orange managed to hold onto it.

Desperate for a victory to avoid the first five-game losing streak of Jim Boeheim's 35-year coaching tenure, Syracuse eked out a gritty 66-58 road win over a UConn team that has now lost two straight. The Orange did it by defending the way they had been earlier in the season rather than the past four games, holding the Huskies to 36.2 percent shooting and limiting Kemba Walker to a mere eight points.

A lack of defense had been Syracuse's major problem in losses to Pittsburgh, Seton Hall, Villanova and Marquette entering this game. Whether it was precision passing from the Panthers and Golden Eagles or long-range bombing from the Pirates and Wildcats, the vaunted two-three zone had been shredded so badly opponents made 53 percent of their twos and 48 percent of their threes during the losing streak.

Syracuse may miss the length of Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins on the perimeter or the interior presence of Arinze Onuaku, but the Orange showed earlier this season that this team was capable of defending well enough to win 18 straight. They got back to that on Wednesday, keeping the Huskies out of the middle of the zone and forcing them to shoot over the top.

Curiously enough, it was Syracuse's offense that was nearly the culprit for a fifth straight loss.

The Orange trailed nearly the entire first half and didn't score until Brandon Triche hit a transition layup 5:37 into the game. Slumping Scoop Jardine continued his shooting slump with a 2-for-11 night, but Brandon Triche picked up the slack by tying his season high of 16 points and the Orange finally got some offensive rebounds.

Avoiding a fifth straight loss was a crucial morale boost for the Orange because now there's an opportunity for them to build some momentum.

A road game at South Florida awaits before games against Georgetown, Louisville and West Virginia.

Lose a few of those, and this win won't seem so important. Get on a roll, and the four-game losing streak will be forgotten.

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