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Napier does it all as UConn survives with 89-81 overtime win against Saint Joseph's

By John Vogl

Shabazz Napier definitely lived up to the hype.

Napier, the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year, refused to let Connecticut falter in its return to the NCAA Tournament. The senior guard finished with 24 points, including nine in overtime, as the Huskies downed pesky Saint Joseph’s, 89-81, tonight in First Niagara Center.

Napier led the seventh-seeded Huskies across the board, adding eight rebounds and six assists to his point total. Napier averaged 17.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists this season.

The 10th-seeded Hawks gave the Huskies all they could handle in a game that featured 13 lead changes.

Saint Joseph’s built a 10-point lead with 3:16 left in the first half, but UConn steadily chipped away at its deficit. The Huskies finished the opening half on an 8-3 run to make it 40-35, and they continued after leaving locker room by scoring the first two baskets to make it 40-39.

The teams exchanged 6-0 runs, and UConn stayed within four before finally catching the Hawks. Napier was fouled on a successful drive, and he made the free throw to give UConn a 55-53 lead with 9:14 remaining.

It was the Huskies’ first lead since a 16-15 advantage with 8:23 gone in the game.

The Hawks, who use just seven players, had enough wind to rally. They regained the lead and built a five-point advantage, 64-59, with 5:11 to play.

Another UConn three-pointer, this time by DeAndre Daniels, put the Huskies ahead, 67-66, with 2:09 to play. After the Hawks regained the lead, a traditional three-point plaby Amida Brimah made it 70-70 with just 39 seconds remaining.

Saint Joseph’s Langston Galloway, eating up time with three seconds differential between the game and shot clock, tried to set up his team for the late lead but botched his dribble and missed wildly on a desperation drive.

UConn inbounded the ball with 2.7 seconds left with a well-designed play that gave Napier an open running jumper, but he missed to send the teams to overtime. The Huskies took care of the game at the free-throw line to earn the right to play Saturday against the winner of tonight’s late East Region game between No. 2 Villanova and No. 15 Milwaukee.

Live blog: 2-Villanova vs. 15-Milwaukee

UConn vs. Saint Joseph's: First-half analysis

By John Vogl

Folks who walked in from the cold for Buffalo’s evening session of the NCAA Tournament got warmed up in a hurry.

Saint Joseph’s and Connecticut came out on fire in their East Region matchup. Saint Joseph's ran to the dressing room for halftime with a 40-35 advantage.

The 10th-seeded Hawks built a 30-23 lead with impressive net-finding ability. They shot 12 of 18 (66.7 percent) from the field, including a handful of dunks by senior forward Ronald Roberts Jr. The Hawks finished the first half at 56 percent.

UConn responded by being deadly from beyond the arc. The Huskies hit four of their first seven three-pointers to keep the game close. UConn went to halftime 6 of 11 (54.5 percent) from long distance.

The previous game in First Niagara Center was a rout by Syracuse, which led from the opening basket to the buzzer, but the Hawks and Huskies proved to be much more competitive early. The teams had eight lead changes in the opening 8:23 before Saint Joseph’s went on a 12-4 run to take a 27-20 lead.

The Hawks had a 10-point advantage (37-27) with 3:16 to go, but UConn finished the half with an 8-3 run.

Connecticut senior forward Niels Giffey, the Huskie’s fourth-leading scorer and rebounder, picked up three fouls in the first half.

Ennis brothers' parents enjoy a double feature

589675 NCAA fans Cantillo#8Tony McIntyre and Suzette Ennis, the parents of Syracuse's Tyler Ennis and Villanova's Dylan Ennis, take in Thursday afternoon's victory by the Orange at First Niagara Center.

By Aaron Besecker

Having a son playing for a team in the NCAA Tournament is enough to make any parents proud.

But having two sons playing for teams in the tournament, and then to have them both playing in the same city to start – that’s a little more special.

Just ask the parents of Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis and Villanova’s Dylan Ennis.

For Tony McIntyre and Suzette Ennis of Brampton, Ont., they were experiencing that situation on Thursday in First Niagara Center.

“Everything’s good so far,” McIntyre said at halftime of Syracuse’s game against Western Michigan, which the Orange eventually won easily, 77-53. “Guys just look like they have a whole different ... a lot more energy than they’ve had in the past,” he said.

The family, which has four other children, came to Buffalo with a contingent of about 50 or 60 people, including some from the basketball program McIntyre runs back home.

With dad clad in a gray Syracuse hoodie and a mom in a Syracuse T-shirt, the proud parents have had “quite a few” interview requests since the tournament began, McIntyre said.

How does the family handle the necessary wardrobe change between their sons’ games, switching from the orange of Syracuse to the white and blue of the Villanova Wildcats?

That’s part of what McIntyre and Ennis were talking about in their seats at halftime.

“Probably just head back to the hotel, change into Villanova stuff and then probably get a bite to eat and come back,” McIntyre said.

Having both sons play in the same city certainly makes travel easier for the family, but they would have been able to manage if things turned out differently.

In fact, they did it last weekend when Villanova was playing in the Big East Tournament championship game at Madison Square Garden in New York, which is where mom, Suzette, went. McIntyre went to see Tyler play in the ACC Tournament in North Carolina.

The parents want to make sure their sons “have all the support they need.”

If they couldn’t be together in Buffalo, “we would have probably done the exact same thing” as last weekend, “and probably still have to hopefully, if all goes well.”

As expected, Syracuse and Ennis feel at home in Buffalo

By John Vogl

Syracuse and the University at Buffalo can debate who is really New York's college team, but there was no doubt who owned downtown Thursday.

First Niagara Center was a sea of orange as the sellout crowd of 19,260 enthusiastically backed Syracuse in its 77-53 victory over Western Michigan.

"We're only two hours away from Syracuse," Orange guard Trevor Cooney said. "We have a lot of great fans, and they travel well. To be so close to home was definitely good for us.

"We expected to see a lot of orange out there, but when you get going and you get some stops and you score and you get the crowd behind you, it definitely adds to it."

Tyler Ennis, from Brampton, Ont., had his own cheering section, as will brother Dylan, who plays for Villanova.

"All I know is my immediate family – my brothers, sisters, my parents – but I think it was probably a lot more close family and friends out there as well," Ennis said. "It was great. It’s always great playing in front of my family. All of them came down to see my and my brother since we’re playing in the same place.

"Playing in front of my family, nothing’s like it."


Cooney's shooting catches up to his confidence, which makes Syracuse a winner

By John Vogl

Trevor Cooney insists his confidence never wavered. The same can't be said about people who'd watched the Syracuse guard clank shot after shot off the rim during his 10-game slump. They knew if the Orange had any chance of advancing deep in the NCAA Tournament, Cooney's shots needed to fall.

They did Thursday. Not surprisingly, the Orange advanced.

Cooney scored a game-high 18 points in Syracuse's 77-53 victory over Western Michigan. The redshirt sophomore fired at 50 percent from the field (5 of 10) and three-point range (4 of 8) to end a long drought. He was just 28.1 percent overall (27 of 96) and 25 percent from long distance (18 of 72) during the previous 10 games, which featured a 2-5 slump by the Orange entering the tourney.

"My confidence was never down," Cooney said in First Niagara Center. "I mean, I had some games where the ball didn't go in for me. I made a lot of threes this year, and I know I can make threes. It was just about coming out and doing it."

Cooney led Syracuse with 86 three-pointers this season off 228 attempts. No one else shot more than 86 times, so it's important that Cooney is successful from beyond the arc.

"When Trevor’s scoring and Trevor is making plays for us, we’re a whole different team," backcourt mate Tyler Ennis said.

It's a team that feels good heading into Saturday's meeting with Dayton.

"He's just got to get his looks and take them," coach Jim Boeheim said of Cooney. "He's been aggressive. I think he stayed aggressive the whole time. That's what you have to do. If you're a shooter, you've got to be aggressive."

WMU's Brown Battles Injury

By Bob DiCesare

Western Michigan guard David Brown, a first-team all-MAC selection, played the second half of a 77-53 loss to Syracuse with a pronounced limp after banging knees late in the first half.

Brown went just 2 of 12 from the field in the game, including 2 of 10 from behind the arc. Without his long-range shooting WMU had no antidote for Syracuse's 2-3 zone.

Brown said he was told "it was terrible where the place I got hit at because that's where all the impact is from you jumping and cutting. Where I got hit at is right where, everything I wanted to do, I couldn't barely do."

Although listed as a senior, Brown could petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility because he underwent two major knee surgeries in his career.

"We feel like both of his redshirt years were due to injury and he was under the number of games that you can be under," said coach Steve Hawkins. "We'd have to petition the NCAA for the sixth year. There is precedent.

"If he has a chance to make some money playing this game, we hae to look at that too," Hawkins said. "Basically it comes down to we owe David. Whatever is in David's best interest is what we have to concentrate on."

Game analysis: Syracuse 77, Western Michigan 53

By John Vogl

Syracuse 77, Western Michigan 53

How Syracuse won: Talent. Aside from that, the Orange won by stomping on Western Michigan at the start and refusing to let the Broncos up. Syracuse ran to a 17-4 lead through 8:21 to take away any upset dreams harbored by the No. 14 seed.

Turning point: The closest the Broncos got in the first half was eight points (19-11), and it was all Syracuse from there. The Orange went on a 14-2 run to re-establish their breathing room and cruise to the easy victory. Jerami Grant started the run with one of his crowd-pleasing dunks, and Tyler Ennis completed the game-changing spurt with back-to-back buckets, including a three-pointer.

Player of the game: For Syracuse to advance deep in the NCAA Tournament, it needs Trevor Cooney to make shots. He succeeded today, shooting 50 percent from the field (5 for 10) and three-point range (4 for 8) to finish with a game-high 18 points. Cooney had been mired in a 10-game slump in which he was shooting 28.1 percent overall (27 for 97) and only 25 percent from long distance (18 of 72).




Stat of the game: During the deciding first half, Western Michigan turned the ball over 11 times. Syracuse turned it into 13 points. The Orange, meanwhile, gave up no points off their four turnovers.

He said it: "We made too many mistakes in the first half, and Syracuse will make you pay." -- Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins.

Up next: Saturday vs. No. 11 Dayton. The Flyers are soaring after a 60-59 upset of intrastate rival and No. 8 seed Ohio State.

Live blog: 7-Connecticut vs. 10-Saint Joseph's

Ohio State star Aaron Craft's career comes to an unfitting conclusion

By Tim Graham

Aaron Craft made a reverse layup with 16 seconds left to give Ohio State a lead.

And there was no better candidate for a critical stop on the other end of the First Niagara Center court.

Craft, the two-time Big Ten defensive player of the year, guarded Dayton guard Vee Sanford, a slasher who'd made only three of his 10 shots in their NCAA tournament game.

Sanford dribbled to the right of lane and cut inside. Craft was close enough to feel Sanford's breath. But the shot went up and banked off the glass with 3.8 seconds on the clock.

Craft desperately dribbled down-court and launched a jump shot that rimmed out. Dayton won, 60-59.

"Defense has kind of been my thing," Craft said, "and it's amazing how it's going to end with a kid getting the game winner on me."

Ohio State coach Thad Matta was asked what Craft could've done differently.

"Honestly, me telling him how to play defense would be like me telling somebody how to build a rocket ship," Matta said. "I'll live and die with that kid any day of the year with what he's going to do defensively."

Craft's decorated career is over. He set the Big Ten record for steals and holds Ohio State's assists record. He became the first in school history to record 1,000 points, 500 assists and 200 steals. A pre-med student, he was Academic All-American of the year as a junior. He went 9-4 in NCAA tournament games.

"We wouldn't have been in this position had he not been doing the things that he had done to get us here," Matta said. "You look at his career, in my mind, in the 10 years I've been at Ohio State, he's going down as one of the all-time reatest players to ever put on the scarlet and gray."

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About Campus Watch

Bob Dicesare

Bob DiCesare

Western New York native Bob DiCesare covers UB football, Big 4 basketball and writes an occasional column. He still holds a grudge against Chris Ford who, he's convinced, cost St. Bonaventure the 1970 NCAA basketball championship.

@TBNDicesare | [email protected]

Rodney McKissic

Rodney McKissic

Rodney McKissic began his journalism career in 1989 after graduating from the University of Cincinnati and has worked for The Buffalo News since 2001. A proud father of four children, he enjoys reading in his spare time.

@RodneyMcKissic | [email protected]

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has covered colleges for The Buffalo News since 1999. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz | [email protected]