PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) When Syracuse and Connecticut get together on the court, good basketball often follows.
The former Big East Conference rivals provided another gem at the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney each had 17 points and the Orange held off the 18th-ranked Huskies 79-76 on Thursday to earn a spot in the championship game.
''For me it was my first time playing against UConn,'' Gbinije said. ''It was nice to see the rivalry and just nice to come up with a win in this type of competitive environment.''
Tyler Lydon added 16 points off the bench. Gbinije also had seven assists in a game that featured seven ties and five lead changes.
''Tyler Lydon's done an unbelievable job. In the middle of the defense, and offensively he sees plays that nobody sees,'' Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. ''He's had two monstrous games down here.''
The teams traded the lead at the start of the second half, with neither able to get much separation.
That changed around the 13-minute mark when the Orange (5-0) tightened their zone on defense and started an 18-8 spurt that gave Syracuse a 65-55 lead with 7:45 remaining. The Orange then fought off several runs by the Huskies (4-1) to preserve the win.
Daniel Hamilton led UConn with 18 points. Sterling Gibbs and Rodney Purvis each added 12.
''The second half they really just took it to us offensively,'' Huskies coach Kevin Ollie said. ''We were in a drought in the first half and the second half and really allowed them to take over the game, and in transition they really hurt us with the 3's.''
UConn's Amida Brimah was forced to the bench during Syracuse's big run, picking up his fourth foul.
But the Huskies kept picking away at the lead and closed to 73-71 on a 3-pointer by Purvis. The Orange strung together some free throws to push the lead back to seven. UConn rallied again and trimmed that lead to 79-76 with 36.8 seconds left.
Syracuse was forced into a wild shot with the shot clock winding down. But it found the ball in a scramble for the rebound and was able to run out the final seconds.
UConn raced out to a 10-point lead, but Syracuse fought back to tie it at halftime.
Both teams shot well in the half and shared the ball while doing it. Syracuse had five assists on its 10 baskets, and the Huskies had seven on their 11 made field goals.
UConn: The Huskies struggled from the free-throw line, connecting on just 14 of 21 attempts. ... They outscored Syracuse's bench 19-16.
Syracuse: Scored 17 points off 13 Connecticut turnovers. ... Five Orange players reached double figures.
There were a few instances late in the game when Syracuse got into trouble offensively and turned the ball over. Boeheim said part of the issue was a rule change that prevents coaches from calling timeouts from the bench. ''The rule of coaches not calling timeouts is not a good rule,'' he said. ''I think that is an imperfect rule. (The players) are playing, I should be able to call timeouts in those situations. ... That should be a coaching decision. I think that's the one rule change I think is really a bad change.''
While they play in different conferences now, both Ollie and Boeheim said they would be interested in adding the other to the schedule for a future a nonconference series. Boeheim said ''there's a reasonable likelihood that we would play them in a few years someday soon.'' Ollie expressed a similar desire to make it happen. ''I think both universities would like to continue that rivalry. ... We'll look at the schedule and look at the teams we already have contracts for and we'll figure it out,'' he said.
The Huskies play Gonzaga in the third-place game on Friday.
Syracuse plays No. 25 Texas A&M in the championship game.
Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower