UConn vs. Syracuse score: Dan Hurley wastes no time in making his mark as Huskies upset No. 15 Orange
Hurley is quickly helping UConn gain back its respectability early on in his tenure
This is one clear reason why the University of Connecticut did whatever it could to ensure Dan Hurley would be its coach.
UConn 83, No. 15 Syracuse 76. At the Garden.
Thursday night brought a familiar stage -- MSG -- and a throwback rivalry from the old Big East to serve as the national debut for Hurley and the Huskies. What Connecticut pulled off has to have UConn fans delirious after what they watched happen to their beloved Huskies, once a top-five program in America, disintegrate to over the previous two years.
Last season, the Kevin Ollie-coached Huskies became a ghost program of what UConn was supposed to be, what it once was. Connecticut finished 14-18, amassing its worst season in three decades, and hit rock bottom a mere four years removed from winning a shocking national title under Ollie in what was then his second season.
Melodrama and internal turmoil bubbled up at UConn. Ollie, an alumnus from the Jim Calhoun era, was forced out in March. He's still trying to get his millions from the school in a dispute over whether his firing was for cause. (A recent NCAA investigationagainst Ollie.)
UConn, a state school in a state with massive budget issues, went hard at the obvious top candidate. It pursued Hurley. So did Pitt. And so did, of course, his then-employer, Rhode Island.
But. In fact, it won out despite offering less money than Pitt. It won out because it's UConn, a sleeping powerhouse embedded in Hurley's beloved pocket of the country, the northeast, where he's spent his entire life. And in short order, he's building hype and extracting optimism at a rate even the most confident UConn fans could not have anticipated.
The Huskies' sleek-looking upset of No. 15 Syracuse was UConn's first win over a ranked team in years. In fact, UConn had not defeated a ranked team away from home since March 2014.
Hurley'sfor the most part, but he still brings a deep passion to his profession. Check out how much this meant to Hurley and his star guard Jalen Adams. The transition from chest bump to handshake is incredible.
That's the kind of genuine interaction (on top of the actual game result) that will earn Hurley immediate goodwill in the program and throughout the Nutmeg State.
UConn didn't just beat Syracuse, it won with flash. It won with deep shooting. Maybe it was just an aberrational hot night, but so what? A lot of guys on the court wearing white on Thursday night were also playing for UConn last season.
And they never looked like this.
Hurley's got something moving already. Take Eric Cobb as an example. The 6-foot-9 senior power forward lost 40 pounds this offseason and committed himself to being an important part of this team. Against a Cuse squad with size and length, Cobb had the best game of his career, putting up personal highs of 13 points and 13 rebounds.
Syracuse was unquestionably hindered without its senior point guard, Frank Howard, who's been out since September with a lower leg injury. But Howard alone wasn't going to keep UConn from unleashing its arsenal from deep. The Huskies made 12 3-pointers and hit 57 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc. They got up and down the floor with vigor.
They looked like they were having fun as they played hard and chested up against a Cuse team that certainly has more overall talent.
Alterique Gilbert's rainbow-swish 3 near the end of the second half salted the win for Connecticut. For Gilbert, it had to feel incredible. The former five-star recruit has missed most of the past two seasons because of shoulder injuries. Against Syracuse, he had 16 points, eight assists, six rebounds and a pair of steals.
Tip to finish, he was the best player UConn put on the floor Thursday night. Syracuse managed to keep it close thanks to freshman Jalen Carey going for 26 in a losing effort. SU's top two guys, Oshae Brissett and Tyus Battle, were not their typical selves.
But Syracuse should ultimately be OK. Once Howard returns, this team has the makeup of a top-25 club. It should also be noted that the debilitating and sudden snowstorm in New York City caused Syracuse's commute from its hotel to take nearly 90 minutes; the Orange weren't in the arena until well after 6 p.m.
For UConn, it's nice to have a reason for hope again. Real hope. That's what this win can be, what it embodies. A convincing victory over a rival -- and an undefeated start to the year. What we saw at MSG on Thursday night was the accelerated alteration of a program that was enervated only a few months ago. Hurley has his hooks in already. His signature intensity looks infectious.
We can't definitively say UConn's back -- it's way too early for that -- but the Huskies are most definitely barking.
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