Friday night, Syracuse’s run to a Big East Tournament title was buried in an early avalanche of three-pointers by Cincinnati. The top-seeded Orange (31-2) fought back, but could not overcome two different 17-point deficits, falling to the Bearcats (23-9) in the semifinals, 71-68. #4-seed Cincinnati went 8-for-10 from behind the arc in the game’s first 15 minutes, building a lead they never gave up.
Everything went wrong in the opening minutes for SU. While Syracuse was missing their first four shots of the game and committing a pair of turnovers, Cincinnati hung up the first seven points of the night. The Orange knocked down a pair of triples, each of which got them within four points, but the Bearcats responded by shredding them with a 15-2 run, closing the burst with 11 consecutive points for a 25-8 lead before the game was ten minutes old. Syracuse scored the next five points to get within a dozen, but Cincinnati pushed the margin back out to 17 at 34-17 with 5:45 left in the half. The Orange forced the Bearcats into missing their last six shots of the half, which helped them get within 35-23 at halftime.
Cincinnati twice extended their lead to 14 points in the opening minutes of the second half, but SU responded with an 8-2 push to get within 41-33 less than six minutes into the session. The Bearcats scored the next four points to go up by a dozen again, but went cold on offense again, allowing Syracuse to get within 53-48 with over eight minutes left. The Orange could not break through that five-point barrier until a dunk with just over three minutes on the clock got them within three, but Cincinnati promptly went on a 7-0 run to take a 65-55 lead with 1:47 to play. SU went on a 13-4 run, narrowing the deficit down to 69-68 with six seconds on the clock, but a breakaway dunk gave the Bearcats a three-point lead with a second to go and the Orange could not get off a miracle shot to try to force overtime.
Dion Waiters did everything he could to bring the Orange back, hitting on a career-high seven three pointers for a personal best 28 points, including 20 in the second half alone. Fab Melo was the only other SU player in double figures with 11 points and eight rebounds. C.J. Fair collected a game-high 11 rebounds in only 22 minutes and James Southerland blocked three shots.
The silver lining for the Orange is that most experts expect that the loss will not affect Syracuse’s destiny in the NCAA Tournament, maintaining that Sunday’s bracket already has them written in stone as the #1-seed in the East Region.
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