NEW YORK, N.Y.– Riding high on an impressive first half showing against No. 4 Louisville Saturday night, there was no way that No. 19 Syracuse could have known what sort of tidal wave was about to hit them in the second half. But it did.
Louisville outscored Syracuse 56-26 in that second half on its way to a 78-61 victory and the Big East tournament title at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Despite the stunning turn of events and loss Saturday, though, Syracuse is a better basketball team and in a better spot to win in the NCAA tournament than it was one week ago.
Just seven days prior, Syracuse was a team in the midst of a bad losing streak. It was a team with big concerns about the ability of its offense to function consistently and effectively, but this run in the Big East tournament has cleared away some of those doubts.
“We played as well in New York as we ever could have hoped for,” said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. “That’s really what we thought about coming down here, to try to get ourselves back on track. Obviously losing four out of five games, you’re not thinking of yourself as a viable team in the NCAA tournament.”
While in the Big East tournament, the Orange redeemed themselves and beat a Pittsburgh team that had beaten them by 10 points earlier in the year. They also beat a Georgetown team that they were previously 0-2 against on the year. All of that happened while it appeared the offense was finally finding its groove after what seemed to be a long dormant period.
“I just feel like we kind of didn’t make some smart plays at the end with the press,” said forward James Southerland, who finished with nine points and eight rebounds. “We didn’t take advantage of our lead and move the ball around like we should have.”
But Saturday’s performance does not wipe the slate clean. It still raises a major red flag and highlights the fact that this NCAA tournament more than anything will come down to matchups. Guards Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams combined for 11 turnovers against the Louisville pressure, which took away their ability to create, thus affecting Southerland and C.J. Fair.
Teams will try to emulate what Louisville did Saturday night. Whether they will be successful, considering the incredible assets that coach Rick Pitino has at his disposal to construct that defense, remains to be seen.