After rising to no. 2 in the Associated Press poll, the Syracuse University men's basketball team got two scares at home -- one it got through, and one it could not.
First, SU brought its highest ranking since the 1989-90 season to its game last Wednesday against long-time rival Connecticut, who was struggling to keep its head above water. It was their first encounter since last March's epic, six-overtime Big East quarterfinal at Madison Square Garden won by the Orange 127-117.
In front of 24,847 roaring fans, SU saw a 16-point lead nearly get away, but a fortunate call and clutch free-throw shooting pulled out a 72-67 win.
Rick Jackson led the way with 15 points and seven rebounds. Wesley Johnson, battling through more adversity with a bandage on his right finger, still had 13 points and nine rebounds.
Kris Joseph came off the bench to earn 14 points and was flawless (six-for-six) from the free-throw line. Arinze Onuaku scored seven points, gathered nine rebounds and played excellent defense, altering many missed Husky shots.
SU carried a 37-30 lead to halftime, largely due to balanced scoring and a 2-3 zone that forced Connecticut to shoot 36.5 percent from the floor, while missing all five 3-pointers attempted. At the same time, though, the Orange reverted to bad habits, committing 12 turnovers that led to eight Connecticut points.
In the second half, SU took control of the game, at least at first. The Orange denied the Huskies any penetration, to the basket which made Connecticut's offense one-dimensional.
Meanwhile, Jackson and Onuaku used one-handed hook shots to convert. Andy Rautins finally drilled a 3-pointer, and Brandon Triche knocked down a jump shot and scored on a lay-up that gave SU their largest lead at 66-50.
George Blaney, coaching the Huskies in Jim Calhoun's absence (he returned later in the week), called a time-out and restored his team's composure.