The Syracuse Orange may play in the Atlantic Coast Conference and the University Connecticut Huskies may play in American Athletic Conference but on Monday night at the Garden, the two might as well have been still in the Big East.
A dreadful first half which saw Syracuse shoot 23.1 percent and Connecticut 25.9 percent, resulting in a 23-21 Cuse lead at the break was erased with a second half that brought back Madison Square Garden memories for everyone.
With Syracuse and Connecticut both fighting for much-needed win, it was the Huskies that rallied from an 11-point, second-half deficit to come out on top 50-52. As UConn improved to 4-4 on the season, Syracuse suffered another tough loss, falling to 5-3.
Leading the way for the Huskies was senior guard Rodney Purvis who had 21 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
Following a three-point basket by Syracuse graduate transfer Andrew White III, UConn head coach Kevin Ollie called a timeout with his team trailing by 11.
“What am I going to tell them, we’re going to go down by 25?” Ollie said afterwards. “I’m going to tell them we’re going to win. I believe it, no matter what we’ve been through. We’ve just got to keep fighting through it.”
Following the timeout, Syracuse’s offense lost its groove, enduring a six-minute scoring drought which allowed the Huskies to fight back into the game.
Syracuse center finished with 10 points and a career-high 16 rebounds. In the games final 11 minutes, Coleman made two buckets, and was the only Syracuse player to make a field goal until White hit a three-pointer to tie the game with nine seconds left.
As the Garden erupted, the Huskies pushed the ball up the floor. With the game in his hands and 21 points already to his name, Purvis stepped back for a three with four seconds to go. As the shot fell short, 6-foot-2 freshman Christian Vital snagged the rebound and went up for a shot at the rim. Vital was fouled at the rim by Tyus Battle and went to the line for two shots and a chance to seal the deal. Vital made both free throws with 2.2 seconds remaining in the game.
”I definitely had a lot of nerves going to the line but the timeout they called helped me out a lot,” Vital said. ”A lot of our veteran guys talked to me during the timeout and they said `Listen, we’re in your city. Take us home.’ And I was able to do that.”
Following a failed Hail Mary down the floor in the games final two seconds, the Huskies were celebrating a win and some cheered as the majority of the fans, draped in orange, headed for the exits.
”This is definitely a huge win for us,” Purvis said. ”We had some early season struggles but to come together tonight in this atmosphere, in this historic place. It was huge for us to come out with the win.”
Although not the prettiest game for either side, it was still Syracuse and UConn and it came down to the final play of the game, something that these two schools are certainly familiar with.