John F. Silver
After 33 years playing each other in the Big East the two long-time foes put an end to their games for the near future and maybe with all time with a classic Big East battle.
It was physical, it was heated and it was certainly emotional.
In the end, the Huskies, a team left behind by others and left for dead this season, put together the most impressive win of the season over No. 6 Syracuse.
Ryan Boatright scored 17 points, Omar Calhoun added 15 including 11 in the second half as UConn defeated Syracuse 66-58 in a Big East game before 13,518 fans at the XL Center in Hartford.
The Huskies (17-6, 7-4) did it by slicing up the Orange’s vaunted 2-3 zone shooting 45 percent from the floor and connecting on 8 of 14 3-pointers. It was the biggest win of the season for the Huskies as they moved into striking distance in the Big East Conference knocking off leader Syracuse (20-4, 8-3).
UConn did it by holding an improbable 38-36 advantage on the boards and scoring 25 points in the paint. The Huskies were without backup center Enosch Wolf, who is suspended from the team following an arrest on Monday, but freshman Phil Nolan stepped in and had five rebounds in 14 minutes.
Shabazz Napier had another strong floor game with 10 points and seven assists as the Huskies defeated the Orange for the first time in three tries.
The Huskies led 29-24 at the half and the Orange and Huskies played even for the first 10 minutes of the second half. With the score tied 42-42, Calhoun hit his first 3-pointer from the corner for a 45-42 lead with 9:53 left. Calhoun added two more 3-pointers over the next four minutes that keyed a 13-4 run as the Huskies took a 55-46 lead with 6:23 to go.
The Orange never got it closer than six the rest of the way as the Huskies picked up a win against a top 10 team.
The Orange shot 35.4 percent as a team and were paced by 15 points from Michael Carter-Williams and 14 from James Southerland.
As the final minute ticked off the clock the crowd at the XL Center stood in applause. A season that began with little excitement and little expectation now has something going for it down the stretch. The Huskies may not be eligible for the postseason and have an uncertain future with its conference.
On Wednesday night that didn’t matter. It was a throwback Big East game and was case No. 1 why the league was started.