Dion Waiters helps Syracuse survive Connecticut

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NEW YORK–Playing No. 2 Syracuse has become something of a high-wire act.

At times it is impressive to watch, as Connecticut was for stretches of the second half, with precision, poise, and patience, but with one slip, it can all come crashing down.

Despite leading for a portion of the final period, Connecticut left the door open just a crack for Jim Boeheim’s Orange and they kicked it down, using a 15-4 run over the last nine minutes to pull ahead and survive in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden, 58-55.

“When they had the lead, eight or nine points, they were in great position, and I thought our guys just dug down on defense, played a little bit harder and got going on offense,” said Boeheim after the game. “It was a great comeback.  It’s very difficult to play a team like Connecticut.”

Though there was every statistic to show why Syracuse should have lost on Thursday afternoon, there’s a reason they’ve come to be the No. 2 team in the country: depth of talent.

Kris Joseph, the team’s leading scorer, and CJ Fair combined for 1-of-12 shooting from the floor and just 12 points. The Orange were outrebounded, 39-32, including 14-8 on the offensive glass. They were 3-of-14 from three-point range.

That made the pressure fall on the shoulders of Philadelphia native Dion Waiters, who, quite simply, produced.

Waiters had 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting, but had no play bigger than when, with 1:14 to play, he drove down the lane and drew in the defense, kicking it out to forward James Southerland, who nailed a baseline jumper that put the Orange ahead for good.

“It’s good my teammates are here for me. They’re not giving up on me just because I missed two shots, and it feels good,” said Southerland. “It was a great atmosphere.”

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And so ends Connecticut’s run in the 2012 Big East tournament, though they appear to have earned themselves a spot in the NCAA tournament through an at-large bid that should be announced Sunday.

Syracuse has locked up a No. 1 seed in the NCAA’s, but will march on in pursuit of a Big East tournament title, playing the winner of Georgetown and Cincinnati at 7pm on Friday.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_