STORRS, Conn. (AP) — Fab Melo’s follow-up dunk with 31 seconds left lifted No. 2 Syracuse to a 71-69 win over Connecticut on Saturday night and clinched the Big East regular season title for the Orange.
C.J. Fair blocked a shot by Roscoe Smith just before the buzzer to preserve the victory for Syracuse (29-1, 16-1) which has won nine in a row since its only loss of the season Jan. 21 at Notre Dame. Kris Joseph had 21 points to lead the Orange.
Jeremy Lamb had 19 points and Andre Drummond added 15 points and 13 rebounds for UConn (17-11, 7-9), which overcame a 17-point second-half deficit to tie the game with 47 seconds to go.
The win was the first for Syracuse at Gampel Pavilion, where the Orange had been 0-4.
Scoop Jardine made a layup with 9:55 left to give Syracuse a 60-49 lead, but Connecticut responded with a 14-3 run to tie it at 63 with 4:18 to go. Ryan Boatright started the spurt with a layup and Andre Drummond finished it with a rebound basket and a fast-break layup.
The Orange led 69-65 with 2:12 remaining when Drummond got free for a dunk and then tipped in Boatright’s miss to leave it tied again with 47 seconds left.
Syracuse led 46-29 early in the second half after a 3-pointer by Joseph, but UConn began chipping away. A 3-point shot from Boatright cut that to single digits, and a behind-the-back pass from Shabazz Napier to Lamb led to a three-point play with 11:53 left that cut the deficit to 56-49.
Drummond followed Smith’s miss with a layup that cut the lead to 63-61 and then took a pass from Napier from beyond halfcourt and tied the game with just more than 4 minutes left. Syracuse went back up by four points before Smith tied it again on his tip-in.
Melo’s dunk off a miss by Fair gave Syracuse the winning margin despite protests from UConn’s bench that Melo touched the ball while it was in the cylinder.
Syracuse took control of the first half early. Joseph, who had 12 points before the break, went on his own 7-0 run to give Syracuse a 12-6 lead. The Orange extended that to 25-10 after a 13-0 run that was keyed when James Southerland blocked a flying dunk attempt by Drummond.
The Orange led 43-29 at halftime.
The Orange beat the Huskies 85-67 in Syracuse two weeks ago, shooting a season-high 59 percent from the floor. Syracuse has won five of the last six meetings between the teams.
Connecticut is 5-5 without coach Jim Calhoun this season, including 3-4 during his current medical leave for spinal stenosis. The Hall of Fame coach also sat out the team’s first three Big East games under an NCAA-imposed suspension stemming from recruiting violations.
Calhoun has surgery scheduled for Monday, but told The Associated Press that he is hoping he can recover enough to return to the bench in time for the season finale against Pittsburgh on March 3. The Huskies had won two of their last three games, but have just five wins since Jan. 1.
The Huskies came into the game rated No. 24 in the RPI and hoping a strong close to the season would be enough to give them an opportunity to defend their national championship in the NCAA tournament. The Huskies travel to Providence on Tuesday.
Boeheim earned his 885th victory, third on the career list and 15 ahead of Calhoun, who is in sixth place.
Former UConn star Rudy Gay had his name added to the “Huskies of Honor” wall before the game. Gay, who now plays for the Memphis Grizzlies, is the 18th former men’s basketball player added to the wall, which pays tribute to the top players, coaches and contributors in UConn men’s and women’s basketball history.