NEW YORK — Now, the real season begins.
Syracuse was eliminated from the Big East Tournament, 71-68, by Cincinnati on Friday night. But shortly after, the Orange immediately set its sights on its ultimate goal—an NCAA championship.
“That’s the main goal and that’s what we all talked about at the end of the day,” guard Dion Waiters said. “I mean, winning the Big East don’t mean nothing at all. We’re trying to win the NCAA Tournament. That’s the main focus.”
The Orange will have to focus quickly after a subpar outing in the semifinals.
Syracuse’s defense was the main culprit, as it allowed the Bearcats to hit eight 3-pointers in the first half, many of them on wide open looks. The Bearcats went into intermission up 35-23.
“Cincinnati moved the ball better than we did,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “They got some real good looks. They made eight threes in the first half, and we didn’t get anything going offensively in the first half.”
Cincinnati cooled off considerably in the second half, hitting just 2 of 9 of its shots from beyond the arc, but hung on because Syracuse missed free throws and turned the ball over.
The Orange missed seven free throws, including a pair of free throws from Fab Melo late in the game. SU also turned the ball over an uncharacteristic 15 times while forcing only 14 on Cincinnati.
It was just the second time this season that Syracuse didn’t have a positive turnover ratio.
Some of that could be attributed to Cincinnati’s zone, which frustrated SU for much of the evening.
“When you play against a zone like we played against our zone, you’re going to make a few more turnovers, and their zone is very good, very active, just like ours is,” Boeheim said. “A couple of them were bad turnovers, but that happens.”
Despite the difficult loss, just Syracuse’s second of the season, that will not matter if SU has a successful NCAA tournament run.
“Most national championships not all, but a lot of them have been won by teams that lose in their conference tournament, including us,” Boeheim said. “So as much as we want to win this tournament, the tournament that starts next week is the only one that matters. Nothing else matters anymore in college basketball.”