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SU survives UConn rally, wins outright Big East title

A characteristic of the Syracuse University men’s basketball team in 2011-12 is winning close and competitive games, especially within the familiar sphere of the Big East.

So why would anything be different in the rematch between the Orange and the host Connecticut Huskies late Saturday night? A double-digit lead SU had for most of the second half dwindled, courtesy of a late run that allowed Connecticut to tie it, 69-69, in the closing stretch of regulation.

With 33.3 seconds left of a battle that may have left an SU fan’s heart pumping faster than usual, C.J. Fair was well-covered, with two UConn defenders challenging his short shot that clanked of the rim. However, the perfectly-positioned Fab Melo converted the rebound into a dunk.

With one last opportunity to tie or win, the Huskies’ Roscoe Smith received a pass while driving in lane. He lost his footing and tried to regain his balance, but was forced into a bad shot thanks to the swarming defense of Fair and Melo.

Fair swatted Smith’s shot as he tumbled onto the Gampel Pavilion floor. UConn’s bench erupted in an angry protest, expecting a foul.

But the officials did not make a call in favor of the Huskies as the No.2 Orange narrowly escaped with a hard fought victory 71-69. Was it a legitimate block by Fair, or was it a foul? Even Fair had mixed reviews on that play.

“I thought I had part of ball, but I was not sure because the play happened so fast,” said Fair.

SU improved to a spectacular 28-1, 16-1 within in the conference. More importantly, it secured the outright Big East regular-season championship for the second time in three seasons,

And the Orange reached two more milestones, breaking the own school record for regular-season victories and getting head coach Jim Boeheim, his 400th win in Big East play alone.

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