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March 7, 2007
NEW YORK ? Unlike last season, Syracuse didn't need any last-second magic to knock Connecticut out of the Big East tournament.
Demetris Nichols scored 28 points, hitting seven 3-pointers, and Eric Devendorf added 19 points to help fifth-seeded Syracuse beat the Huskies 78-65 on Wednesday in the opening round at Madison Square Garden.
"We didn't need a miracle at the end of it this time," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "We played well for the last 15 minutes."
Boeheim's team made history in the 2006 tournament when the Orange won it all as the ninth seed behind a remarkable week for senior guard Gerry McNamara. He hit 3-pointers at the end of regulation and overtime to help the Orange upset top-seeded Connecticut on the way to the title.
It was the first time a team took the title by winning four games, and it was Syracuse's fifth Big East championship. The Orange have won eight straight tournament games - one short of Connecticut's record of nine set from 1998-2000.
On Wednesday, the Orange (22-9) used a 25-8 run to start the second half and turn a two-point deficit into a 61-46 lead with 11:14 left. Nichols scored 11 points, including three 3-pointers during the spurt.
"The second half we got better shots, tightened up on defense and did a better job on the boards," Boeheim said.
Despite finishing in fifth-place in the conference, Devendorf felt the Orange needed a victory in the tournament to secure an NCAA bid.
"We just had to get this win," he said. "This kind of gets a lot off our shoulders as far as the NCAA tournament goes, but we still have a lot to do here."
While Syracuse appears headed to the NCAA tournament, Connecticut will miss it for the first time since 2001.
Connecticut (17-14) entered the Big East tournament as the No. 12 seed - its lowest ever. The inexperienced Huskies were the No. 11 seed in 1997 and were trying to salvage a tough season that started with a Top 25 ranking.
The frustration of a difficult season was evident. Huskies coach Jim Calhoun received a technical foul after arguing a traveling violation midway through the second half. Visibly annoyed, Calhoun kicked the Big East sign in front of the scorer's table.
"When bad things happen to you by incompetent people, and they do happen to you at times, and as that built we became a little more frustrated," Calhoun said.
The Huskies could get no closer than 10 the rest of the way.
Boeheim and Calhoun, two Hall of Fame coaches, have a combined for 1,497 wins.
"When you think about the history and tradition of the league and see Syracuse and Connecticut and the league's two Hall of Fame coaches going at it on the first day, it's pretty staggering," said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, who will face Syracuse in the quarterfinal on Thursday.
Jerome Dyson scored 21 points to lead Connecticut. A.J Price added 11 for the Huskies.
"In the second half we just couldn't get it going," Dyson said. "We missed shots we needed to make."
Dyson scored 12 points in the first half to help Connecticut build its small lead.
"We started the game off how we wanted to by running," Calhoun said.
Devendorf kept the Orange in the game, scoring 15 points on 7-for-10 shooting.
"I did my part in the first half and did what I could in the second half," said Devendorf, who had a 102 fever Tuesday night. "I just tried to run the team."
Syracuse debuted new tight-fitting uniforms designed by Nike that had large color blocking on the shorts, reminiscent of the 1970s Orangemen.
"I don't pay much attention to them," Boeheim said. "The players like them and they look good."