"When you lose four in a row, you're trying to find a way to make a play," said Coach Boeheim after the game. "And it's not easy. That game easily could have gotten away from us two or three times." (quote courtesy of Connecticut Athletics)
Syracuse got off to a frigid start fitting of the cold weather that's gripped much of the nation, not scoring for more than five and a half minutes to start the game. But defensively the zone found Kemba Walker all night (3-for-14, 8 points), and outside of Jeremy Lamb (22 points) the Huskies struggled offensively. Syracuse took a 26-25 lead into the intermission thanks to the defense, which helped UConn shoot just 29% from the field in the first stanza. The second half wasn't much better for UConn outside of Lamb as they made just five of their sixteen shot attempts while Syracuse shot a superior 45% as a team.
Simply put it was good for the Orange to get back on the right track, and early thoughts of their possible demise were likely a bit hasty. Despite those four losses, with Syracuse not playing well in three of them, the Orange were still 18-4 going into Wednesday night. Moussa Keita played much better defensively off the bench (11 rebounds, six steals and two blocks) and Scoop Jardine had a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio despite shooting 2-for-11 from the field. Are all the problems solved for good because of one win? No, and not even the most die-hard Syracuse fan would say that they were. But it's a bit less stressful when you can go back to the drawing board with a win as opposed to a five-game losing streak.
Other Notable Happenings
1. Duke whips Maryland in their return to ACC play.
Speaking of teams who had their demise prematurely forecasted, quite a few people deemed Duke unable to win a national title following their blowout loss at St. John's on Sunday. But the Blue Devils looked fine in the hostile environment that is the Comcast Center, outscoring Maryland 40-29 in the second half to win 80-62 and remain in first place in the ACC. Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith each surpassed the 20-point mark while reserves Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry combined for 19 points in a far more efficient offensive performance for the 19-2 Blue Devils. Jordan Williams posted another double-double for Maryland (20 points, 10 rebounds) but as a team the Terrapins shot just 40% while Duke made nearly 53% of their field goals, and when that included a 24-point margin in points from beyond the arc you're not beating Duke. While there will still be some questions about Duke since Kyrie Irving is out don't expect the Blue Devils to simply slink away into the dark. A team that has some very good veterans to go along with outstanding coaching can be more than a threat come March.
2. Oklahoma State hands Missouri their fourth Big 12 loss.
One question that's seldom asked about the Missouri Tigers: what have they done on the road? It may be time to look into that one as they dropped their fourth straight Big 12 road game after dealing with a myriad of travel issues, falling to Oklahoma State 76-70. Keiton Page and J.P. Olukemi led the Cowboys with 19 points apiece while Darrell Williams added 15 and 13 rebounds, and Oklahoma State out-rebounded the Tigers 38-31. Could rebounding be one of the major reasons why Missouri has struggled on the road? While it doesn't help matters when your opponent takes 43 free throws in order to win consistently on the road teams have to hold their own on the boards and do the other little things needed to win games. And until Missouri, who is only a plus-0.8 in rebounding margin, assumes better control of the glass they're going to struggle on the road.
3. Is it time to throw in the towel on Michigan State making a comeback?
While it's extremely difficult to give up on the mastery of head coach Tom Izzo one has to wonder if this is the beginning of the end for the 2010-11 version of the Michigan State Spartans. They certainly didn't show up ready to play Iowa at Carver Hawkeye Arena, falling behind 24-6 halfway through the first half and going into the locker room down 41-20 at the break. Things didn't get much better in the second half with the Spartans unable to get any closer than 18 points, and that came as a result of a Kalin Lucas jumper...with 1:47 left in the game. Iowa started off hot to their credit, but for Michigan State to allow an opponent to shoot 57.7% from the field is a bit of an indictment of this cast in regards to desire and toughness. There are some talented players on the roster but having the physical talents and the talent needed in order to lead are two different things. Lucas, Durrell Summers and Draymond Green were expected to be the leaders for Michigan State and it's tough to argue that outside of Green they've gotten the job done. So, do we give up on the Spartans? Not yet, but that time is definitely approaching.
Top Three Games
1. Appalachian State 80, UNC Greensboro 78 (OT) Omar Carter capped a 26-point, 12-rebound night with a pair of free throws with 25 seconds remaining and a blocked shot with 11 second to go to give the Mountaineers the road victory. Aloysius Henry led the Spartans with 26 points.
2. San Diego State 56, Colorado State 54 A D.J. Gay step back jumper with 1.8 seconds remaining gave the Aztecs the victory in Fort Collins to keep them tied with BYU atop the Mountain West. James Rahon scored 15 off the bench for SDSU while Kawhi Leonard added 12 and 15 rebounds, and Andy Ogide led the Rams with 18 points and 12 rebounds.
3. St. John's 58, Rutgers 56 The Red Storm won their second consecutive game in exciting fashion, with a Justin Brownlee layup with four seconds being the difference. Dwight Hardy led the Red Storm with 15 while Rutgers' Jonathan Mitchell led all scorers with 21.
Three Notable Performances
1. G D.J. Cooper (Ohio) 30 points, six rebounds and three assists in the Bobcats' 91-85 loss at Central Michigan.
2. G Chaisson Allen (Northeastern) 26 points, five assists, four rebounds and four steals in the Huskies' 91-80 upset of VCU at Matthews Arena.
3. G Trent Hutchin (Southeastern Louisiana) 32 points (8-for-14 3PT) in the Lions' 89-87 win at Lamar.