Johnson helps No. 2 Syracuse hold off UConn 72-67
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP)—Even without coach Jim Calhoun at the helm, Connecticut gave Syracuse a scare to the end.
Wes Johnson and Kris Joseph combined to make six straight free throws in the final 33 seconds, and No. 2 Syracuse held off the game Huskies 72-67 on Wednesday night after squandering a 16-point lead in the second half.
It was the first meeting between the teams since Syracuse’s epic 127-117, six-overtime win in the Big East tournament last March. Overtime became a possibility again when Jerome Dyson’s 3-pointer tied the score at 65 with 2:33 left, but Johnson put the Orange back in front by hitting two foul shots with 30.4 seconds to go.
“We dealt with six overtimes. That’s history,” Joseph said, smiling. “We did it once. We don’t want to do it again. We just wanted to win the game in regulation and we did a great job of closing it out.
Rick Jackson led Syracuse with 15 points. Joseph had 14 and Johnson 13.
“They’re a great team. We knew they were going to battle back,” Joseph said. “We were up double digits with 10 minutes left. The game wasn’t over at that point and we all knew that. We had to keep battling. When it was a tie game, all we had to do was stay poised.”
Dyson paced Connecticut with 19 points and eight rebounds. Stanley Robinson had 16 points, but only two in the second half. Kemba Walker added 14 points and Gavin Edwards 12.
It was the 11th straight victory for Syracuse (24-1, 12-1 Big East) and it snapped a six-game skid against the Huskies in the regular season.
Syracuse opened the season with 13 wins before losing to Pittsburgh. It’s the first time in school history the Orange have had two 10-game winning streaks in one season.
Connecticut (14-10, 4-7) dropped to 0-6 on the road this season and 1-5 against ranked teams. That lone victory was over Texas when the Longhorns were No. 1, and the Huskies are still looking for another signature win.
George Blaney fell to 3-4 in place of Calhoun, who took a medical leave of absence last month.
The Orange seemed in command after Jackson’s shot in the lane over Edwards gave Syracuse a 50-34 lead with 13:50 left. But Andy Rautins, the Orange’s vocal leader, had just been called for his fourth foul and the struggling Huskies roared back with a 14-2 run.
Dyson scored six points and drew a key charge on Scoop Jardine to set up a dunk by Edwards. Then, Dyson converted a follow on the third try to move Connecticut within 52-48 with 8:36 to go.
“We continue to show fight and heart and get to the point of being able to win the game,” Blaney said. “But we just can’t close it out.”
Syracuse held the lead, but never by more than six, and Dyson’s 3 from the top of the key had the Huskies within 61-60 with 4:06 remaining.
“Those kids played great, but missing a coach of the caliber of Jim Calhoun is a tremendous loss for them,” Orange coach Jim Boeheim said. “For them to play this well without him being there is a great credit to George and the kids themselves. When they were 14 down, it would have been easy to give up.”
Johnson’s soaring dunk along the baseline over Ater Majok put the Orange back up 65-62, but Dyson followed with another 3 from the left wing to tie it at 65 with 2:33 left.
Walker then missed a 3, Dyson snared the long rebound from Joseph and missed a runner as the shot clock was about to expire.
After a timeout, Rautins missed a 3 off the inbounds pass, Jackson rebounded the ball and passed in the lane to Jardine. As he drove to the basket and had his shot blocked, Boeheim screamed for a timeout.
It was unclear if Boeheim signaled for the timeout before Jardine tried to shoot the ball, but the referees allowed it with 36.6 seconds left and 32 on the shot clock.
Johnson was fouled by Robinson as soon as play resumed and sank both free throws to give Syracuse a 67-65 lead with 30.4 seconds left.
Joseph followed with two more free throws with 11.5 seconds to go. Walker hit a driving layup to cut the lead back to a basket, but Joseph sealed it with two more free throws after he was intentionally fouled by Majok on a breakaway with 5.8 seconds left.
Syracuse, averaging 50 percent from the floor this season, shot just 39.1 percent in the second half and 42.6 percent for the game. The Orange finished with 12 blocks to three for the Huskies, but UConn had 13 steals and forced 20 turnovers.
The Huskies dominated the glass during their second-half rally, outrebounding Syracuse 26-14 and 12-5 on the offensive glass.
“We knew they were going to be physical,” said Rautins, who had eight points and five assists. “Coach said they were going to be the most physical team we’ve faced. Things worked out. We got to the foul line.”
The Orange went 23 of 28 from the foul line, while the Huskies were 11 of 17.