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Syracuse Plays Better When the Stakes are High, Simple as That

In unfathomable fashion, Syracuse downed No. 1 Duke on the Blue Devils’ home floor back on Monday night.

Facing a 17-point spread, the Orange hadn’t been that big of an underdog in over 20 years. On the flip side, Duke was 90-0 all-time as the No. 1 team in the country at home against unranked opponents (first time ever ranked No. 1 was 1965-1966 season). That’s crazy.

However, let’s not forget about a recurring theme that was reinforced in SU’s upset.

Syracuse’s Monday night magic marked the third time in the last four seasons the Orange has notched a win over Duke. In fact, SU is tied for the second-most wins against the Blue Devils in that span.

With that, something seems rather clear about Syracuse basketball. Generally, the higher the stakes, the better it plays. Monday’s win was a perfect example, but it certainly wasn’t the only one.

Some more clear proof would be SU’s last two trips to the NCAA Tournament, when the Orange reached the Final Four as a 10-seed in 2016 and the Sweet 16 just last year as an 11.

It’s not hard to see why facing tough opponents would elevate SU’s game though. After all, we are talking about a group of college athletes here.

With a little adrenaline, it makes perfect sense that this experienced Syracuse team would thrive in its biggest matchups. As most recently shown on Monday, the Orange has the talent to beat (or at very least, seriously challenge) anyone when the motivation is there, and the experience to stay cool in pressure-cooked situations.

It’s evident. More often than not, Syracuse shoots better, defends harder, and moves far superior off the ball (definitely a possible reason for more made shots) when they’re playing inspired basketball.

Recent history emphasizes this through SU’s upsets over No. 6 Florida State, No. 9 Virginia and No. 10 Duke in 2016-2017, just a year before Syracuse’s surprising run to the Sweet 16. Sure, those big wins from two seasons ago were all at home, but this year, the Orange has already gone on the road to beat No. 1 Duke and No. 16 Ohio State. That’s impressive.

However, there seems to be a problem more often than there should be in games when the stakes are not as high. For instance, of all the frustrating losses Syracuse has suffered this year, performances like ones turned in against Old Dominion and Georgia Tech are completely unacceptable.

All in all, the Orange may actually be a lot more consistent than people think, even if it’s in an unorthodox way. Amid this season’s ups and downs, we pretty much know what we can expect at this point. Syracuse will fight its hardest, in its hardest games.

Now, set to face Pitt on Saturday at The Dome, the Orange definitely promises to be the favorite heading in off a win over the top team in the nation. A loss would be devastating, but also serve as an example in a trend worth shaking. High stakes or not, Syracuse obviously wants to always be at its best. Regardless, returning home to a Carrier Dome crowd against the rival Panthers shouldn’t hurt. Tipoff is at 2:00.

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