After a 15-2 run gave Louisville a 51-46 lead with 3:38 remaining it seemed as if the Cardinals were well on their way to an eighth straight win over #2 Syracuse. In a contest that featured some ugly offense, a five-point margin seemed to be near insurmountable despite the Orange's many talented players. However a Brandon Triche jumper just 18 seconds later would start a 6-0 run, which ended with a C.J. Fair bucket with 2:11 to go to give Syracuse the 52-51 win. While these are two of the best teams in the country when it comes to field goal percentage defense, Monday's effort was just as much about two teams that couldn't make shots as it was about two teams that could defend.
Syracuse put together one of the most amazing performances ever seen on shots outside of the paint yet still found a way to win late. The Orange made just one of their twenty-nine shots, a Dion Waiters three with 16:32 remaining in the first half, from outside of the paint on the night. The 38-24 edge the Orange enjoyed in the points in the paint category played a major role in the outcome, as did the Cardinals' 12-for-21 night at the foul line (SU shot 9-for-11).
Fair led the Orange with 13 points and Fab Melo scored 11 (also pushing his made free throw streak to ten straight), propelling Syracuse to the win on a night that saw Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine combine to make just two of their thirteen shots. Also pivotal to the win was the late-game play of Triche, whose first basket in the final 6:08 gave Syracuse a 46-41 lead. He accounted for six points and two assists in the second half, and while those are astronomical numbers they were needed on Monday night.
"I told Scoop he was 50% the last two games, 100% last game and zero percent tonight," said Boeheim of his fifth-year senior guard. "We're fortunate enough to have three high quality guards; Brandon Triche had two big buckets. I thought we showed great perseverance to get the lead, they came back and took the lead right back, and Brandon made two plays we had to have to get back."
Chane Behanan was the best player on the floor for Louisville, making seven of his eight shots from the field and grabbing six offensive rebounds in a 16-point, nine-rebound performance. But the decision-making of point guard Peyton Siva (eight points, four assists and five turnovers) was an issue, as was Rick Pitino not making the move to go small and place either Kyle Kuric (despite the fact that he was having a bad shooting night) or Wayne Blackshear in the high post (moving Kuric there against Charleston earlier this season saved the game for the Cardinals).
Far too often it was Gorgui Dieng in that position to make a play and he simply could not get it done. One thing about Syracuse's zone is that they traditionally do a good job of recognizing who they want to make decisions and where, so once Dieng got the ball at the foul line they let him try to make something happen. Dieng did score nine point and grab ten rebounds, but he also finished with five turnovers and shot just 2-for-9 from the field. The next time Louisville encounters a zone defense they're going to have to seriously consider placing Kuric or Blackshear at the foul line area.
But back to the Orange and what this game does for them in regards to next month. Was this the most impressive performance Syracuse could have put together? Of course not, but from a rebounding standpoint maybe they've discovered a "recipe" for success. Syracuse did allow 16 offensive rebounds but they grabbed 16 themselves, and within the 40-37 rebounding disadvantage it's important to note that seven players grabbed at least four rebounds (Joseph and Melo led the way with six apiece). To get to New Orleans the Orange will need to rebound by committee as they don't have that one dominant defender, so in that regard this was a good start.
Other Notable Happenings
1. Jeff Withey puts together another outstanding performance as #6 Kansas wins at Kansas State.
The discussion of the most improved player in the country is definitely an intriguing one, as in most cases big men tend to be the focus. One such big is Kansas' Jeff Withey, who has been on a tear of late and hasn't shown any signs of a letdown. In the Jayhawks' 59-53 win at Kansas State the San Diego native finished one blocked shot short of a triple-double, racking up 18 points, 11 rebounds and nine blocks. With teams doing whatever they can to limit the impact of Thomas Robinson (ten points, nine rebounds) it's critical that Withey perform and he's definitely done that for Bill Self. Tyshawn Taylor scored 20 points to lead the way for Kansas and Jamar Samuels countered with 20 of his own to go along with 12 rebounds.
Kansas didn't get a whole lot of production outside of their big three but they could afford that. The same couldn't be said for the Wildcats, who shot 22.6% from the field and scored 18 points in the first half. Angel Rodriguez had a bad night for lack of a better way to put it, going scoreless (0-8 FG) and turning the ball over seven times. If Frank Martin's team is to have any shot at reaching the NCAA tournament he simply has to get better. Samuels, Will Spradling and Rodney McGruder won't be enough for K-State at this point, and with games at both Baylor and Missouri next on the schedule the time is now.
2. Baylor bounces back from a rough week to beat Iowa State in Waco.
After losses to both Kansas and Missouri it was apparent that Scott Drew's team was the third-best in the Big 12, and while there's no shame in that the way in which the losses occurred has to be of concern. Monday night saw the Bears score 15 of their 33 field goals at the rim (layups or dunks), and their 81.8% shooting from two in the second half was a major factor in Baylor's 79-64 win over iowa State. Perry Jones III scored 18 points and grabbed seven boards and Quincy Miller led three other Bears in double figures with 16 (and six assists). What also helped Baylor was their work on the defensive end, where they neutralized the versatile Royce White.
White did score 14 points but he also turned the ball over seven times, a season high for the Minnesota transfer. Iowa State shot 44.1% from the field but just 8-for-26 from three, and against a defense like Baylor's the over-reliance on the perimeter shot can get a team in trouble if they aren't knocking them down at a good clip. Despite the win Baylor still has a lot of work to do on the boards as Iowa State grabbed 14 offensive rebounds and held a 30-26 rebounding edge. Shooting 60% from the field is fine but that's not going to happen every night. Until Baylor steps up their performance on the defensive glass people will continue to have questions.
3. Mississippi Valley State takes another step towards their first SWAC crown since 2008.
The game didn't receive much attention but the top two teams in the SWAC faced off in Baton Rouge as Southern hosted first-place Mississippi Valley State. Despite shooting 31.5% from the field and turning the ball over 21 times Sean Woods' Delta Devils found a way to win, outscoring the Jaguars 21-6 from beyond the arc in the 58-53 win. Paul Crosby was the best player on the floor as he finished with 23 points and 15 rebounds, and both he and Cor-J Cox knocked down three shots from beyond the arc. Cameron Monroe scored 15 points to lead Rob Spivery's Jaguars but the fact that they couldn't take advantage of MVSU's 21 turnovers or knock down shots (29.8% FG; 2-for-16 3PT) proved to be their downfall. With the win the Delta Devils (13-0 SWAC) have a four-game lead with five games to go, it's difficult to see anyone being able to catch them.
1. Joe Harris will be a game-time decision on Tuesday night as Virginia takes on Clemson due to a broken bone in his left (non-shooting) hand suffered in the Cavaliers' loss at North Carolina on Saturday. Harris, who has played in 55 straight games for the Hoos, is averaging 12.5 points and 4.1 rebounds per game and is a solid sidekick for Mike Scott.
2. Valparaiso begins an important stretch on Tuesday night with a game against UIC, and it remains to be seen if forward Kevin Van Wijk is able to play. Van Wijk, who bruised his knee in Valpo's win at Cleveland State on Thursday, did not play on Saturday and the Crusaders struggled badly in their decisive loss at Youngstown State. Bryce Drew needs Van Wijk back not only if they're to win the regular season title but also if they're to have a shot at the automatic NCAA tournament bid.
3. It took a shootout but Belmont did what they had to do to move into a tie for first in the Atlantic Sun, beating Stetson 106-93. Ian Clark scored 23 points and grabbed six rebounds to lead five Bruins in double figures, and Belmont shot 12-for-20 from beyond the arc. Stetson fired away from deep with reckless abandon (15-for-35) and nearly pulled off the upset as a result. Belmont is tied with Mercer at 12-2, and these two teams will likely determine the regular season champ in the finale as they're slated to meet at Mercer.
4. Head coach Anthony Grant decided to end the suspensions for guards Trevor Releford and Andrew Steele on Monday, a day before Alabama hosts #12 Florida. But he did not end the suspensions of Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green, meaning that a Nick Jacobs has to come up big if Bama is to win. Florida will be without Mike Rosario but they've got more than enough weapons to win on the road, so this will be tough sledding for Alabama.
5. It's going to be tough for anyone to catch red-hot UT-Arlington in the Southland, but McNeese State has the look of a team that can challenge for the conference's automatic bid. Patrick Richard scored 20 points, Dontae Cannon 17 and Rudy Turner added ten points and 12 rebounds off the bench as the Cowboys won 70-61 at Northwestern State. The win puts McNeese State two games ahead of both the Demons and Lamar in the loss column in the East Division, and with two of their next three against two of the best in the West (UTSA and UT-Arlington) this cushion could come in handy.
6. Remember when Savannah State was widely regarded as one of the worst programs at the Division I level? The program has come a long way since then, and with their 66-59 win at North Carolina A&T the Tigers remain tied in the loss column with Norfolk State atop the MEAC standings. Preston Blackmon scored 14 points and dished out six assists to lead the way, and Rashad Hassan added 11 points and seven boards.
Three Notable Performances
1. C Jeff Withey (Kansas)
18 points, 11 rebounds and nine blocks in the Jayhawks' 59-53 win at Kansas State.
2. F Paul Crosby (Mississippi Valley State)
23 points and 15 rebounds in the Delta Devils' 58-53 win at Southern.
3. F/C Adam Pegg (Stetson)
31 points (13-18 FG), five rebounds and three assists in the Hatters' 106-93 loss to Belmont.