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    UConn Men's Basketball
    Tuesday, March 05, 2024

    UConn fights through adversity to score dramatic win over Syracuse at Garden

    UConn’s Rodney Purvis (15) reacts after hitting a late 3-pointer during the Huskies’ 52-50 victory over Syracuse on Monday night at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

    New York — Desperate for a win on a big stage, UConn delivered a spirited effort and added another riveting chapter to its rivalry with Syracuse.

    The Huskies overcame an 11-point second-half deficit and some self-inflicted wounds down the stretch to seize a huge 52-50 victory Monday in the Tire Pros Classic before 15,347 noisy fans at Madison Square Garden.

    "This is definitely good for us," senior Kentan Facey said. "It's UConn and Syracuse at the Garden. That's the biggest stage for us at this point in our season, so it was good for us to come out here and be a part of this.

    "It was a great opportunity for us to carry on something that a lot of great players were a part of."

    There were several Husky Heroes.

    Fifth-year senior Rodney Purvis scored 14 of his game-high 21 points in the second half while sophomore Jalen Adams (16 points, seven assists, seven rebounds) and Facey (seven points, a career-high 13 rebounds), who was dealing with a stomach virus, made big plays.

    Freshman Christian Vital pushed UConn across the finish line by calmly converting two free throws with 2.2 seconds remaining to break a 50-all tie. Vital grabbed the rebound of a Purvis miss and drew a foul on his putback attempt.

    "He knocked them down like he was a fifth-year senior," coach Kevin Ollie said.

    Up until that point, Vital, who grew up about 16 miles away in Queens Village and played before about 30 family members and friends, hadn't scored a point or taken a free throw. His teammates calmed him down when Syracuse called a timeout before his attempts.

    "They were just like, relax," Vital said. "They were joking around making light of it, (saying) 'We're in your city and put us on your back.' That was able to relax me a lot and I went out there and knocked them down.

    "There were a lot of nerves. I'm glad with the end result and that with UConn winning a tough fought game against a good Syracuse team."

    Both teams endured some long offensive droughts. The Huskies appeared doomed, staring at a 37-26 deficit with 13 minutes left, and really struggling offensively.

    But they didn't fold.

    "We just stayed positive the whole time," Purvis said. "That's what we have to do this season. We've had enough unfortunate situations this year, so the only thing we can do is stay positive at this moment."

    UConn (4-4) won despite shooting 31.4 percent and missing five straight free throws in the final two minutes. The Huskies went 13-for-23 from the foul line overall. They also committed three straight turnovers after Purvis buried a 3-pointer and Adams hit a free throw to cap a 16-4 spurt and hand them a 46-44 lead with 5:49 remaining.

    Their lead stretched to 49-44 but the Huskies had trouble putting the game away. DaJaun Coleman's foul line jumper provided Syracuse's first points in over six and a half minutes. Coleman finished with 10 points and 16 rebounds.

    Adams had a chance to stretch the lead, but hit just one of two free throws for a 50-47 edge with 16 seconds remaining. That left the door open for Syracuse's Andrew White III to bury a game-tying 3-pointer with 9.2 seconds left.

    Much credit goes to UConn's tenacious defense. The Orange (5-3) shot an icy 26 percent and scored just two field goals in the final 9:08.

    "Once again, it wasn't the most beautiful basketball game from an offensive standpoint," Ollie said. "But I thought the defense was great. ... Once again, our guys didn't get down because you usually predicate your defense on your offense. I thought they took a step and some new growth was made."

    "... We all were in the huddle and we were believing and I think that's the positive energy we've got to have. We were thirsty for this opportunity and hungry to hit. The guys really hit and fought tonight and I was very proud of them."

    g.keefe@theday.com

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