Both teams may not be having sterling seasons, but that’s meaningless when it comes to a storied rivalry.
UConn and Syracuse met up at the Mecca of basketball on Monday night, both hobbling in on one leg and a cast on either arm. UConn has been plagued by injuries, and the Orange have come down with a terrible bug called Awful Offense. Both teams combined to shoot 28 percent from the floor, but based on the noise from the crowd and the intensity on both sides, you would have thought both teams were hitting every single shot.
That is so, so far from the actual case. But it doesn’t even matter. UConn and Syracuse have a rivalry that stretches back to 1956, when the two met for the first time, and they almost always play each other close. Insane overtimes and close conference games don’t even begin to describe the hostility these two schools have during their matchups.
Being at Madison Square Garden last night, it was nearly impossible for me to stay unbiased. I know, what a fantastic look for an aspiring journalist! But even as media, even as a professional, it’s impossible to not be overcome with some sort of emotion while watching a UConn-Syracuse basketball game. Both teams have a history of playing incredibly close games, no matter how good of a season either team is having.
There is no doubt in my mind that this rivalry is still as intense as ever. The arena was split nearly 50-50, but the young contingency of UConn fans was impressive; they were almost earsplitting from across the arena. One look around Twitter will show that Syracuse’s student section was nearly empty, and it was barely filled with students. Most Cuse fans were older alumni who brought their families or their older friends along.
The students are who will keep the rivalry alive. As new waves of 18-year-olds enroll in both universities every year, the history and the fervor surrounding the UConn-Syracuse rivalry is somewhat lost; it makes sense that soon enough, not enough kids will remember just how great the rivalry once was. But as long as students keep showing up and showing so much energy, each new group of young UConn students will recognize the passion and continue the tradition.
And I’m telling you, when Christian Vital hit the first of his two game-winning free throws with 2.2 seconds left, the short scream that rose from the crowd as the ball fell into the net was deafening. And I still get chills thinking about Rodney Purvis’s 3-pointer that put the Huskies ahead after going down by 11. I’ll admit, it was insane to see Andrew White III hit a corner three to tie the game in the last few seconds, but I was mentally preparing myself for it. I was just surprised it took so long to happen.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that at its peak, this rivalry is one of the best in college basketball. Ever since Syracuse left the Big East for the ACC, the rivalry has been less intense, if only because the two teams don’t meet multiple times a year on each other’s campuses. Last night’s game was no record-breaker in terms of offensive performance, but the sequence of events and circumstances surrounding UConn’s season combined to make this game a true classic. A true Tire Pros Classic, anyway.