7:00 PM ET, March 1, 2004
Harry A. Gampel Pavilion, Storrs Mansfield, Connecticut
STORRS, Conn. (AP) -- Even though it wasn't his senior night, Emeka Okafor put quite a cap on his home career.The 6-foot-10 junior center fought through back spasms to get 25 points and 15 rebounds and lead Connecticut (No. 8 ESPN/USA Today, No. 7 AP) to an 89-67 victory over Seton Hall on Monday night.Okafor, AP's preseason player of the year, was honored along with the Huskies' seniors because he will graduate in May, and although he hasn't officially announced he will leave early for the NBA, he should be one of the first picks in the draft."It was something to remember," he said of his final home game. "I was thinking of previous seniors and then it was my turn."Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said Okafor is "ready in a whole bunch of different ways. He'll make the decision himself. He's going to follow what the best thing is and he's a finance major and millions do mean something to a finance major."The win gave the Huskies (24-5, 12-3) sole possession of first place in the Big East for one day. In a matchup of the teams tied with Connecticut when the night started, No. 3 Pittsburgh is at No. 12 Providence on Tuesday night.The Huskies close out the season Sunday at No. 24 Syracuse."We put `80 minutes' up on the board signifying sometimes life gives you some extra chances," Calhoun said. "We may be able to win our third straight Big East championship and that would be something special."Ben Gordon had 23 points for the Huskies, who won their fifth straight and ninth of 11. They finished the season 15-1 at home, 8-0 in Gampel Pavilion and 7-1 in the Hartford Civic Center."We play well here," Calhoun said in an understatement. "Our kids blocked 12 shots, and every one didn't seem to be the home run kind but the kind that lead to fast breaks."John Allen had 17 points for Seton Hall (19-8, 9-6), which had won three straight. Andre Sweet had 12 points and 15 rebounds, and Andre Barrett had 11 points although he was limited by first-half foul trouble."They shot the ball extremely well," Pirates coach Louis Orr said. "I don't know if there's a tougher 1-2 punch than Okafor and Gordon in the country. Inside out, that's a tough matchup. They had a very good game."The double-double was Okafor's national-best 19th of the season and the 48th of his career. He was four points off his career high, 29 against North Carolina earlier this season, but no one in the sellout crowd of 10,167 in Gampel seemed to mind when he came out of the game for the last time with 2:55 to go and the Huskies ahead 81-62. He waved to the crowd and he went to the bench and they roared back at him."He's really consistent and he just comes to play every night," Gordon said of Okafor. "That was a really good way for him to leave his legacy."It also was the final home game for senior point guard Taliek Brown, who had seven points and five assists.Gordon had some fun over Okafor's academic success."I was happy for the real seniors," Gordon said. "Not for Emeka. He cheated."Okafor had four blocks Monday night, and the Huskies entered the game with 251 and shattered the school record of 253 set last season with the 12.Okafor was a force inside at the start of the second half when the Huskies pulled away from a 41-34 lead. He scored on four straight possessions as Connecticut went up 54-42 with 14:06 to play.Gordon, second to Okafor on the team in scoring, took over when the Huskies blew the game open.He scored on three straight possessions, then Okafor scored on the next two in an 11-2 run that made it 76-57 with 5:25 to play."We just got going. It was our time. Time to separate and move away," he said, adding the back wasn't a factor throughout the game."In the first half it really didn't bother me," he said. "It started to mess with me in the second half and I slowed down a little bit." Barrett, who leads Seton Hall in scoring and assists, picked up his second foul with 8:27 left in the first half and went to the bench. The Pirates went on a 7-2 run when he first left the game to tie the score at 30, but Connecticut closed the half with an 11-4 run."Connecticut was awful good tonight," Orr said. "We got out of synch with the fouls. It was tough to get a rhythm."
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