The Big East tournament has provided plenty of entertaining games in recent years, and both Syracuse and Cincinnati proved the 2012 version can do the same after emerging victorious in their first postseason action.
If their last meeting at Madison Square Garden is any indication, they may be in for another exciting matchup Friday night when the top-seeded Orange face the fourth-seeded Bearcats in the semifinals.
The second-ranked Orange (31-1) escaped with a 58-55 win over ninth-seeded Connecticut on Thursday after trailing by eight in the second half, continuing their run toward a likely No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Dion Waiters scored a game-high 18 points off the bench for Syracuse, which has won 11 straight - a streak that began with a 60-53 victory at Cincinnati on Jan. 23.
Coach Jim Boeheim lauded his team’s performance Thursday after it had four days between games.
“I hate sitting around all week, and it’s very difficult,” Boeheim said. “I’m glad that we were able to get a win. We haven’t played that many games and we need to play again. Tomorrow’s game will help us, but this was a tremendous comeback.”
Cincinnati completed a rally of its own Thursday, beating No. 13 Georgetown 72-70 after Cashmere Wright hit a runner with 7.6 seconds remaining in the second overtime.
The Bearcats (23-9) trailed by 11 points with 8:30 left in regulation, but Yancy Gates powered the comeback and finished with a game-high 23 points. Coach Mick Cronin said he was thrilled with the win, which came despite Cincinnati missing 19 of its 21 attempts from 3-point range.
“Today was a great example of the character of our team,” Cronin said. “So I couldn’t be more proud of these guys right now, to go 2 for 21 from 3 against Georgetown and win the game is unthinkable, to be honest with you.”
Gates, a senior, said he’ll be up for the next challenge as well.
“This is my last shot at (a tournament championship), so you don’t want to just play one game and go home right away,” he said. “I’ll never play in the Garden in the Big East tournament again, so (I’m) just trying to push and fight and stay here as long as possible.”
The Bearcats will have to avenge their fourth straight loss to Syracuse in order to advance to Saturday’s championship game. Cincinnati shot 34.4 percent in that contest even though the Orange were without Big East defensive player of the year Fab Melo.
Syracuse also has won six of the last seven meetings in a stretch that began with a thrilling victory in the first round of the 2006 Big East tournament.
Gerry McNamara hit a 3-pointer with less than a second remaining to give the Orange a 74-73 win on their way to the championship in the teams’ only meeting in conference tournament play.
Syracuse will look to continue toward its first tournament title since that year while preventing Cincinnati from advancing to its first Big East championship game.
The Bearcats, playing in their first semifinal since joining the conference prior to the 2005-06 season, haven’t won a league tournament since winning the Conference USA championship in 2004.