(REUTERS) — Emeka Okafor had 15 points and 12 rebounds, and (No. 19 ESPN/USA Today, No. 23 AP) Connecticut used a balanced offense and solid defense to beat (No. 18 ESPN/USA Today, No. 17 AP) Syracuse 75-61 Monday night.
The Huskies (15-5, 6-3 Big East) won their second-straight game since losing two in a row by more than 20 points. They improved to 2-1 without coach Jim Calhoun, who was released from the hospital Sunday, three days after having surgery to remove a cancerous prostate. They also won their second game without starting point guard Taliek Brown, who will be out four-to-six weeks with a broken finger.
Freshman Carmelo Anthony matched his career high with 29 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for the Orangemen (16-4, 7-3), who had won three straight and five of six.
Connecticut spread its offense out, as seven of its eight players scored at least 7 points. Meanwhile, Syracuse was pretty much limited to converting offensive rebounds for points.
The Orangemen, who entered the game third in the league in scoring (81.1) and second in field-goal percentage (48.8), were 20-for-67 from the field (29.9 percent), including 8-for-37 in the second half.
Syracuse’s first 17 points of the second half came on free throws, and its first field goal was accidentally put in by Okafor as he tried to grab a rebound.
The first field goal for the Orangemen came on an alley-oop to Hakim Warrick with 11:05 to play, and it pulled them to 50-44. They got to 50-46 just over a minute later on a layup by Kueth Duany, but the Huskies went on a 13-5 run that featured a short jumper by Ben Gordon, the first field goal of the half for the Huskies’ leading scorer.
Rashad Anderson had 13 points for Connecticut, which had lost three of its last four against Syracuse, while Gordon had 11, well below his 20.6 average.
Warrick and Duany each had 12 points for Syracuse, which finished with a 41-38 rebounding advantage, including 21-11 on the offensive end.
Calhoun begins journey back to the bench
Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun walked a mile on his treadmill at home Monday, the first steps in getting back to the bench less than four days after having his prostate removed.
But returning to the bench will be a slow process, and he isn’t going to push his return. He is waiting until his body is ready for the rigors and stress of coaching major Division I basketball.
“Everything was successful,” Calhoun said of the four-hour surgery. “They removed my prostate, and there was no cancer in my lymph nodes.”
Calhoun said he did some walking in the hospital over the weekend, but he has to watch his fatigue level.
“Right after I walked on the treadmill, I went downstairs, sat down and two hours went by because I had fallen asleep,” Calhoun said. “The doctors told me not to even think about anything (coaching-wise) until March. I want to lead a quality life and continue to coach. We’ve got a great young team. I want to watch my family grow.”
Calhoun spoke with the Huskies’ Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor following shootaround Monday. He said he talks to longtime friend and interim head coach George Blaney “about seven times a day.”
“I’m staying in touch with them,” Calhoun said. “If I could remove the staples and be there right now, I would. I’m going to watch the game, but I’m not going to coach every pass. But I will listen and watch the broadcast.”
Calhoun said he found out about the cancer during a visit to the doctors Friday. He said it was “like a punch in the stomach.” But he didn’t hesitate and said he immediately called his brother, a cardiologist in Boston, to get in touch with the best urologists he knew for a course of action. He knew then that he wouldn’t put off surgery.
He then called Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who had a similar operation a year ago. Boeheim said he was out for a week of practice, 14 days from games and wouldn’t be surprised to see Calhoun do the same, although everyone’s recovery period is different.
“As soon as I heard (that I had a cancerous prostate), I had already made up my mind that it didn’t belong in my body, and I wanted to get rid of it,” Calhoun said. “I would have had the surgery that afternoon.”
Calhoun said the toughest part of the past week was actually saying goodbye to the team last Tuesday before they boarded the bus for a road game at Virginia Tech.
“That was one of the saddest moments,” Calhoun said. “Each kid hugged me, and they were gone. I’ve had a team for 30-something years. And then I went back to my desk, and at that moment, I didn’t have a team. I knew I was facing something bigger. But I was still sad sitting there.”
Calhoun said doctors and his family didn’t want him to watch the game against the Hokies because he had to get up early in the morning for surgery. He said he still watched it and couldn’t bear to watch the Huskies lose. He watched the Providence victory Saturday and was pleased with the way the team responded.
Calhoun isn’t even considering slowing down when he does return. The prospect of coaching a young team, of getting back out to the court and continuing his career is driving him even more. He’s having trouble just lying around house during this mandatory rest period.
“It’s hard not to do anything,” Calhoun said. “I’m used to a 12- to 14-hour day. I’m used to the camaraderie of being around the coaches. Coaches understand that, and that’s why it has been so wonderful to hear from everyone from Roy Williams (at Kansas) to Lute Olson (at Arizona) and Mike Jarvis (at St. John’s). Everyone. I just want to do this the right way, get back and have my life back.”