Louisville’s solution to beating Syracuse’s zone is a simple one. Shoot over the top of it.
Guards Preston Knowles and Kyle Kuric combined for 45 points on 12-for-19 shooting from 3-point land as No. 15 Louisville (19-6, 8-4 Big East) survived a late Syracuse (20-6, 7-6) run to hang on for a 73-69 win. No. 13 Syracuse now has six losses in its last eight games and has lost seven straight to Louisville.
“It’s tough when you’re 19 down on the road to come all the way back,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “We got our offense going, did some good things on the defensive end, but you can’t get that far behind.”
Kuric’s 3 with 15:30 left gave the Cardinals a commanding 57-37 lead. For the afternoon, the Cardinals shot 48 percent from downtown but only 42 percent from the field.
Louisville was able to dissect the Orange zone by placing Kuric in the middle of SU’s zone. The guard was then able to draw Orange defenders and find his teammates for open shots.
Kuric finished with four assists as the Cardinals assisted on 20 of their 26 baskets. Four different Louisville players had four or more assists.
“The objective was to not let them shoot,” Brandon Triche said. “It was difficult for us because they penetrated and sucked us in and spread it out very well.”
But SU mounted a furious 20-5 rally to close within 69-66 with 1:39 left.
Triche led the charge, scoring 11 of his season-high 21 points during that run. Scoop Jardine (20 points) found Triche who started it with a 3-pointer.
Rick Jackson added a dunk and a layup, and Kris Joseph and Jardine each had a 3 during that stretch. Triche would cap the run with a fast break layup off of a CJ Fair block to make it a one-possession game.
“College basketball is a game of runs,” Triche said. “We got ours toward the middle of the end. We would’ve been better of stopping them a little more.”
But that was as close as Syracuse would get.
Chris Smith made a pair of free throws to give Louisville a 71-66 cushion, and on the ensuing possession, Triche’s 3 banked off the backboard, rolled around the rim and dropped out, ending Syracuse’s chances at a comeback.
The Orange played small most of the day as center Fab Melo didn’t play for the first time this season. He was replaced in the lineup by fellow freshman Baye Moussa Keita.
“[Melo] missed practice,” Boeheim said. “He’s done playing.”
Keita played 15 minutes and finished with seven rebounds, but Syracuse went with Jackson at center for the duration of the game in an attempt to counter Louisville’s outside shooting.
Fair picked up most of the minutes and had 11 points and seven rebounds.
“It’s frustrating because we were right there,” Fair said. “We did a good job coming back, but we came up short in the end.”
Brad Bierman contributed to this story.