Ryan Boatright

UConn upsets Syracuse, showing season-long toughness

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HARTFORD, Conn. — UConn entered the season with nothing to play for. The Huskies took on the role as spoilers, which was clear in a season-opening win against No. 14 Michigan State. Months later, UConn has continued to fight in a season where so much has gone wrong.

The prime example of UConn’s resiliency occurred on Wednesday night in UConn’s 66-58 upset win over No. 6 Syracuse at home.

“Once again, this group fought all obstacles and made it through with a fantastic win,” said UConn coach Kevin Ollie.

UConn can’t play in the postseason. Their Hall of Fame coach, Jim Calhoun retired in September. In the middle of the season, the Catholic 7 essentially announced the end of the Big East. However, UConn played Wednesday night like its Super Bowl, taking down a long-time rival in the final meeting as Big East opponents.

The Huskies trailed by two with over three minutes to go. Shabazz Napier connected on a three to give UConn the lead. The Huskies defense limited the Orange to 1-of-5 down the stretch, while UConn shot 3-of-5, including a buzzer beater by Ryan Boatright to give UConn a 29-24 lead entering the break.

In the second half, Syracuse tied the game and eventually took the lead with under 12 minutes to go, 40-39 on a James Southerland 3-pointer. It looked like Cuse was ready to roll at that point, however UConn countered with the first of many punches. Three-pointers from Niels Giffey and Omar Calhoun on back-to-back possessions gave UConn a 42-40 lead. Boatright had a breakaway dunk to give a 47-42 lead.

But the biggest blows were back-to-back threes from Calhoun, on consecutive possessions, that gave UConn a 55-46 lead.

UConn shot 6-of-8 from behind the arc in the second half — 8-of-14 for the game — in one of the more impressive shooting displays against Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone.

While Southerland’s three gave Syracuse its final lead with 11:47 to go, he was the only one connecting from deep. He hit all four threes, with the rest of Orange shooting 0-for-14.

Kevin Ollie and Co. are playing for the name on the front of the jersey. Playing for the university and the state of Connecticut. The shorthanded Huskies are now 3-2 against ranked opponents, including a win against No. 17 Notre Dame in South Bend.

“You can’t measure what we’ve been through,” said Ollie.

UConn has seven more games, and are currently one game out of first place in the Big East standings. The season ends the season Mar. 9 against Providence, wrapping up a hard-fought, admirable season.

“We have a lot of pride,” said Boatright. “Me and Shabazz are great leaders. We have a great chief in coach Ollie. We bring it everyday.”

Syracuse receives mixed news on sanctions appeals

Jim Boeheim
Associated Press
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Wednesday the NCAA made its ruling on two appeals of sanctions made by Syracuse University, with the news being mixed for the men’s basketball program.

On the positive side the NCAA ruled that Syracuse will be docked two scholarships per season for the next four years, as opposed to the original ruling of three. As a result Jim Boeheim’s program only has to account for the loss of eight total scholarships, meaning that they’ll have 11 to fill in each of the next four seasons as opposed to ten.

One scholarship may not seem like a big deal, but in a sport where you only get 13 (when not dealing with sanctions) getting that grant-in-aid back really helps from a recruiting standpoint.

As for the negatives, they both concern Boeheim. Not only has there yet to be a ruling on Boeheim’s appeal of his nine-game suspension that goes into effect when ACC play begins in January (that appeal is being heard separately), but the appeal to reinstate the wins that were vacated as part of the sanctions was denied. As a result Boeheim officially has 868 wins instead of 969 (not counting today’s game against Charlotte).

And with Mike Hopkins set to take over as head coach in 2018, the denial means that college basketball will have to wait quite some time before anyone threatens to join Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski in the 1,000 wins club.

While not having the wins officially reinstated does hurt, getting a scholarship back for each of the next four seasons is a bigger deal when it comes to the long-term health of the Syracuse program. Also of great importance will be the ruling regarding Boeheim’s suspension, as a suspended coach is not allowed to have any contact with his players or coaching staff while serving the penalty.

And with the original ruling due to take up half of Syracuse’s league slate, not having Boeheim (or the chance to speak with him) is a big deal when it comes to this current team.

St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe cleared by NCAA

Chris Mullin
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe has been cleared by the NCAA to play this season and will be eligible immediately, the school announced on Wednesday.

Yakwe is a 6-foot-8 forward that reclassified and enrolled at St. John’s this fall. He attended the same high school as Kansas forward Cheick Diallo, who was also cleared by the NCAA to play today.

St. John’s played in the Maui Invitational this week, and Yakwe did not take part. His first game with the Johnnies will be on Dec. 2nd against Fordham if the program plans to play his this season.

The question that must be asked, however, is whether or not he will suit up or simply redshirt. The Johnnies are in the midst of a serious rebuild and will be without their other elite recruit this season, Marcus Lovett. Lovett was ruled a partial qualifier. Would it make sense to burn a year of eligibility on what make amount to a wasted season, or will head coach Chris Mullin opt to save that year for down the road?