“It was probably the worst thing to happen to get up 15. If we hadn’t played well and we were up four or five, they probably wouldn’t have done that, but that’s what they had to do at that point to go after it, and that was exactly what I would have tried to do, and that’s what they did, and they’re good at it.”
SU’s 45-29 lead became Louisville’s advantage 56-48 in one of the most dramatic see-saw swings in the history of this incredible tournament. It was a ridiculous 10 minutes where the Cardinals couldn’t miss, forced Syracuse into a million mistakes, and the erratic, rushed, undisciplined Orange offense returned from a three-and-a-half game hiatus.
Give the Cards credit. They’ve been a very good team all season, and can beat you with elite guard play, suffocating defense, and bulk down low. But the Orange also killed itself with an inability to keep composure and make good decisions. The press got inside SU’s head, James Southerland had to head to the bench with 4 fouls, and the Orange offense looked like it had spent the day in midtown drinking for the St. Paddy’s parade.
Michael Carter-Williams was errant. Brandon Triche missed shots. CJ Fair bricked. SU’s sloppy handle, led to transition points for UofL, and the Orange again deteriorated into iso/hero ball. It’s too bad. The storybook was writing itself. The Garden was absolutely bananas for the first 25 minutes of game action. The din of the pro-Orange crowd was piercing. As Southerland rained 3’s, and Syracuse built its lead, the noise sounded like a monsoon hitting a tin roof, amplified through an echo chamber. It was thrilling.
Syracuse rising from the dead after a putrid final five games, to race through the final Big East Tourney (as we know it) and hoist the trophy? Maybe it was a little too much to ask. What three wins, including over NCAA teams Pitt and UConn, did was stabilize SU’s quickly falling stock. Now the Orange are comfortably on the 4-seed line, instead of worrying whether it would face the most dangerous 12-seed in the round of 64.
It was also a chance for Syracuse to get its mojo back. Triche and Southerland had been drilled by the critics during the late season swoon. Both played poised (outside of the final 10 minutes vs. UofL), and made big shots. Baye Keita ripped some huge rebounds, Trev Cooney hit important buckets, and Boeheim was far more engaged than the regular season.
Orange Nation was dreading Selection Sunday last week. Now it’s a welcomed sight. Louisville’s press sent SU’s head spinning, but it gave us all hope this won’t be such a short stay in March.