There was nothing like a return to comfortable surroundings against a comfortably familiar rival to get Connecticut a win that maybe can get the Huskies’ season back on track.
Desperately needing a spark in a season that early on has been defined by injuries, stunning losses and near-losses, the Huskies rallied past Syracuse for a 52-50 win Monday night. The game was played at Madison Square Garden, home to so many clashes between these two in the Big East Tournament in the past, and was the first of several big college games at the venerable arena this week.
It wasn’t Big Monday, and it was far from a work of art, but the night still reminded us just what the sport is missing when these two are not in the same conference anymore. With their games there in the past, both can make a figurative claim to MSG being their home away from home, and the atmosphere for this game made for typically great television between these two.
The contest featured a frantic finish, and on a night when young players had their share of struggles while veterans carried play, it was freshman Christian Vital providing the winning points, hitting two free throws with just over two seconds left for the Huskies. That came after Andrew White hit a 25-footer for Syracuse with nine seconds remaining to tie the game.
It was a game that featured great intensity, a whole lot of 2-3 zone defense from both teams and several buckets full of jump shots. Which isn’t to say that those shots were going in.
Connecticut shot 31.4% from the field, making just 16 of 51 field goal tries, and that was the better mark of the two teams. Syracuse shot an unsightly 25.9% (14 of 54).
UConn even was bad at the free throw line (13 of 23 for 53%). The shooting all around was so poor that of all things Syracuse’s free-throw shooting-seemingly a struggle for the past 30 years-was the closest thing to a beacon of light, with the Orange making 16 of 24 from the line. Still, the discriminating fan will measure a game by more than just scoring, and underneath all the bricks was a fierce battle among rival schools.
When Connecticut needed a boost, it got one from its veterans. Rodney Purvis scored 21 points, Jalen Adams totaled 16, seven rebounds and seven assists, and big man Kenton Facey was huge off the bench with seven points and 13 rebounds, repeatedly outworking the Cuse on the glass. Amida Brimah also went on a shot-blocking binge midway through the second half as the Huskies rallied from an 11-point deficit that in this game must’ve felt like 20.
To give an idea how bad UConn needed this one: the Huskies moved to 4-4 with the win, reaching the .500 mark for the first time this season. Connecticut has a long way to go to get near the heights that were expected of it when the team received top 20 recognition before the season, but a reunion with an old rival proved to be a good start.
- Think Nebraska-Omaha’s win over Iowa over the weekend didn’t get its next opponents’ attention? Iowa State drilled the Mavericks 91-47, racing out to a 36-9 lead just 12 minutes into the game and never letting up. The Cyclones hit 15 three-pointers and looked much better offensively than they did Thursday in a low-scoring home loss to Cincinnati.
- Texas A&M-CS played Texas A&M-CC on Monday, with the better known Texas A&M (of College Station) toppling Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 86-69. Somewhat surprisingly, the Islanders owned the glass decisively (39-31 advantage, including 19 offensive boards) but the Aggies shot a sterling 54.4% and got 25 points and eight rebounds from Tyler Davis.
- It was anything but easy, but St. John’s edged Cal State Northridge 76-70, following up a decisive win on the road at Tulane last week with another win. Shamorie Ponds scored 25 for the Johnnies.
- Rider defeated Siena 71-69 in the MAAC. The Saints continue to be off to a disappointing start, now sitting at 3-6 overall.
- Wisconsin-Milwaukee got a road win at Montana State, winning 83-78 despite the best efforts of the Bobcats’ outstanding Tyler Hall. The sophomore scored 42 points.
- Couple other dramatic finishes out west as Boise State escaped Loyola Marymount 80-79 and Portland squeaked by Texas-Rio Grande Valley 90-89 in overtime.
- The annual Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden has Purdue with a huge size advantage against Arizona State (7 p.m. Eastern, ESPN). That’s the undercard before Florida meets Duke in the second game (9:30 p.m., ESPN), with the Gators getting a golden opportunity for a signature win.
- Another event: on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Pearl Harbor Invitational takes place in Hawaii. California meets Princeton in the first game (7 p.m., FS1) while Hawaii and Seton Hall tangle in the second (9:30 p.m., FS1).
- Interesting pairing of former Southwest Conference foes when Houston is at Arkansas. Also, Marshall plays at Tennessee-Chattanooga in a matchup of former Southern Conference rivals.
- How far has UNC Charlotte come, and how far do the 49ers have to go? UNCC defeated Oregon State on Saturday, and now gets a shot at Wake Forest tonight.
- Tricky road game for Monmouth as the Hawks take on in-state and former conference rival Wagner.
- The historic Palestra hosts the Big 5 again, and that’s always a good thing. The latest edition will feature new No. 1 Villanova facing La Salle (7 p.m., ESPN2).
- Good game in the Northeast as bruising Old Dominion travels to take on Rhode Island.
- Belmont and Lipscomb renew the Battle of the Boulevard for the second time in a week. The Bruins won the first game at the buzzer with a baseball the length of the court for a layup after the Bisons had just tied it with 2.8 seconds left.
- After a nice win at Georgia, Marquette can’t afford to let down when it hosts Fresno State (7:30 p.m., CBSSN).
- Texas continues its basketball schedule against football schools, traveling to Michigan (9 p.m., ESPN2) just a few days after playing Alabama.
- IPFW goes to Notre Dame (9 p.m., ESPNU), as the Mastodons take a swing at another state school after having already beaten Indiana.
- In a similar vein, Utah Valley-the team that defeated BYU-gets another shot at in-state glory when it goes to Utah.
- Finally, one of our favorite events of the year has San Francisco State at San Francisco, with the teams playing at Kezar Pavilion, the home of USF from 1924-58 and when it was winning back-to-back national titles in the mid-50s with Bill Russell. And the Dons will be wearing throwback uniforms including short(er) shorts.
Enjoy your Tuesday.