The UConn men’s basketball team returns to Madison Square Garden for the second year in a row to take on old Big East rival Syracuse at 9 p.m. Tuesday in the Jimmy V Classic.
This is the 94th meeting between the Huskies (6-2) and the Orange (6-1), with Syracuse holding an all-time 55-37 series advantage. Both teams have recorded losses to top-10 teams: UConn to No. 4 Michigan State and Syracuse to No. 2 Kansas.
“It’s gonna be great, I’m from New York myself so it’s just that rivalry,” Mamadou Diarra said after UConn’s overtime win over Monmouth. “I remember being at the game last year and just like, the atmosphere was just amazing and I just couldn’t wait to play, so it’s going to be a big game.”
UConn rode a 21-point performance by Rodney Purvis and clutch free throws from Christian Vital to edge out a 52-50 victory in last year’s contest. Both teams combined to shoot 28.6 percent from the floor that game.
Luckily for the Huskies, Syracuse is not a good 3-point shooting team. They’ve gone 36-for-130 (27.7 percent) from beyond the arc while giving up 62 treys to opponents on 181 tries. UConn shoots 30.4 percent (55-181) from 3-point range while allowing opponents to shoot 36.2 percent.
Both teams have failed to prove themselves against the top teams in the country, but both teams still have good records. Both teams shoot in the low 40s from the floor (Syracuse 43.3 percent and UConn 41 percent) but have a standout scorer—UConn’s Jalen Adams averages 19.4 points per game and Syracuse’s Tyus Battle averages 20.
Adams is fresh off scoring a season-high 31 points, while Battle went 7-for-20 from the floor and 2-for-11 from 3-point range and led the team with 22 points. The Orange are coming off a 76-60 loss to Kansas in which they were held to shooting 32.1 percent from the floor compared to the Jayhawks’ 49.1 percent shooting.
UConn, however, is coming off their second overtime game in a row against a then 3-4 Monmouth team. Just like in last year’s MSG matchup, Vital hit a pair of clutch free throws in overtime and a crucial steal off Monmouth’s inbounds play in the final seconds to secure UConn’s victory.
Vital looks fondly on last year’s game, remarking how it felt like “UConn nation really took over” MSG. After his clutch performance in last year’s game and in Saturday’s game against Monmouth, Vital is just looking forward to going back to his hometown.
“Going back home to the Garden, playing against a good team like Syracuse, reliving this rivalry. It’s going to be a really good game,” Vital said after Sunday’s practice.
The game will be preceded by a match for the ages between 2017 national runner-up Gonzaga and 2016 national champions Villanova. Both games will be airing on ESPN.