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Huskies upend Orange in final Big East meeting

The SportsXchange

HARTFORD, Conn.- With no Big East tournament bid to look forward to and no postseason berth awaiting for them because of academic shortcomings, the University of Connecticut men's basketball team is in full March Madness mode a month early.

The unranked Huskies, behind a blistering second-half 3-point shooting exhibition, added sixth-ranked Syracuse to its list of national powerhouses vanquished thanks to a 66-58 victory before a crowd of 13,518 at the XL Center on Wednesday night.

"We are just playing basketball," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. "I think we are one of the purest teams playing right now. It is the purest team because we are not playing for a postseason: we are playing for the love of UConn and for the love of each other.

"They can't ban us from that. They can ban us from the postseason, they can ban us from the Big East tournament but they can't ban us from getting better and loving each other.

"You can't measure what we've been through and the grit that these guys have, how they dig deep and how they are determined to show America that we are a good team no matter what," Ollie added.

The Huskies (17-6, 7-4 in the Big East) made 7 of 8 from 3-point range during one point in the game. It began with Ryan Boatright's buzzer-beating 3 at the end of the first half, which gave the Huskies a 29-24 lead at halftime.

After Syracuse rallied to take a 30-29 lead, Boatright found room to operate from the perimeter as he drained a pair of 3-pointers 36 seconds apart to give the Huskies a five-point advantage.

With Omar Calhoun heating up from the perimeter, the Huskies were able to extend the lead to nine points on a pair of occasions. The lead finally hit double digits courtesy of a couple of Niels Giffey free throws with 3:43 remaining.

With the Huskies still up by 10, Michael Carter-Williams and Jerami Grant scored eight seconds apart to make it a two-possession game, but Syracuse could not get any closer than six points until the final 30 seconds.

"It feels awesome to beat them on our home (court) and the way the crowd supported us," Boatright said. "The big games that we (play), they are our championship games because we can't go to the postseason. I felt the intensity in practice and in the shootaround."

Boatright had 17 points, Calhoun had 15 and Shabazz Napier 10 points and seven assists to lead UConn.

Carter-Williams had 15 points for Syracuse (20-4, 8-3) and James Southerland had 14.

With Syracuse heading to the Atlantic Coast Conference following the season, this will be the final time the teams will meet as Big East foes ending a rivalry with so many glorious moments, including a six-overtime classic in 2009.

"It has been a great series. I think Connecticut and Syracuse have had so many great games over the years and it was one of those things that goes away and it is just the way it is," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "It has been talked about a million times in a million places. The league wasn't able to be kept together and I feel bad about the whole thing. If we signed the football contract two years ago we wouldn't have that problem but they didn't want it, they didn't do it and now they can't get a TV contract."

Notes: UConn was playing without junior center Enosch Wolf, who has been suspended indefinitely after being accused of striking a female student early Monday morning. Wolf, who has been charged with burglary in the third degree, criminal trespass in the first degree and disorderly conduct, had his hearing continued to Mar. 20 after a hearing in Rockville Superior Court. ... Boeheim refused to answer a question posed by ESPN's Andy Katz in the postgame news conference. "I will answer anybody's question (but not) yours because you are an idiot and really a disloyal person and a few other things I can add but I am not going to go there," Boeheim said. ... Carter-Williams, who came into the game leading the country with an average of 8.6 assists per game, had just one assist.
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