I know that the upcoming Louisville Cardinals game is being played in the Carrier Dome, but by all means if their fans want to try and white out the Dome, we're all for it. The Syracuse Orange improved to 3-0 in "White-Outs" and clinched the outright Big East regular season title with a 71-69 victory over the Connecticut Huskies on Saturday.
The Orange once again won a game in which the opposing team refused to go away, forcing SU to grit it out and play to the final whistle. Last week I was kinda down on the Orange for what felt like their tenth-consecutive game like this. This week, I feel differently. Yes, I would have much preferred to see the first-half dominance continue and the Orange win by 30. But you'd have to be naive to think the Huskies weren't going to adjust and roar back in front of the fired-up crowd with their season on the line. On the road in the Big East against a rival, you take a two-point win and you run with it, end of story.
Saturday's narrow decision also marked many milestones for the Orange and head coach Jim Boeheim, who earned his 400th career Big East conference win. SU also not only clinched the regular season crown but had already secured the top seed in the Big East Tournament earlier in the day. In the "be careful what you wish for" department, they might just see the Huskies there again.
Kris Joseph scored a game-high 21 points for the Orange. Fab Melo added 11 points and nine rebounds for Syracuse, including the go-ahead dunk in the final minute to lift the Orange to their ninth straight win.
Jeremy Lamb netted 19 points to lead the Huskies, who lost for the eighth time in 11 games. Andre Drummond contributed 15 points and 13 rebounds in a losing effort.
Syracuse held a 43-29 advantage at the break and Joseph opened the second half with a three-pointer to give the Orange their largest lead of the game, but Connecticut would not go quietly. The Huskies started their comeback attempt with a 17-8 run to close the gap to 54-46 with 13:29 left in the game.
A pair of Joseph free throws followed by a Scoop Jardine layup extended Syracuse's lead back to 11 before the Huskies reeled off a 14-3 swing to knot the game at 63 on Drummond's layup with 4:18 remaining in the contest. Connecticut would not take the lead, though, as back-to-back layups by Joseph and Melo put the Orange back on top.
The Huskies battled back to tie the game at 69 with 47 seconds left when Roscoe Smith followed up a Ryan Boatright miss with a tip-in, but Melo's put- back slam on the other end made it a 71-69 contest with half a minute remaining in the game.
Boatright's three-point attempt on Connecticut's ensuing possession was partially blocked by Dion Waiters, but the loose ball was deflected out of bounds by Syracuse with 13.3 seconds showing on the clock. Then, coming out of a timeout, Smith's off-balance shot while being harassed in the lane was turned aside by C.J. Fair to seal the victory for Syracuse.
The Orange will have a chance to tie the 2009 Louisville Cardinals for the best Big East regular season record when they try to end the year 16-1 against the 2012 Louisville Cardinals. There will be some who wonder if this team will lay down because the game "doesn't mean anything" but I can't imagine that. Especially not since they're trying to finish the season undefeated in the Dome and it's Senior Day for Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine.
I see a lot of folks saying that the last couple weeks have proven that the Orange won't go far in the NCAA Tournament. I'm beginning to look at the last couple weeks as proof that they can. Whatever the situation, be it poor offense, lack of an inside game or an opponent's hot hand, all the Orange keep doing is winning.