NEW YORK — Despite Syracuse playing its worst half of basketball in four days, head coach Jim Boeheim still left New York (for the final time) pleased with his team.
“We came to New York, not playing well, we lost 4 out of 5, and we needed to get ourselves going,” Boeheim said. “Obviously we’re playing better than we were then.”
The Orange lost 78-61 on Saturday night to Louisville, despite having a 16 point lead with 15 minutes to go in the second half. The Cardinals employed a full-court press to wear SU down, forcing 20 turnovers that led to 31 points.
But as far as Boeheim and Co. were concerned, one bad half didn’t obscure seven other good halves.
“We played one bad half, and it happened to be in the championship game in the second half,” said Michael Carter-Williams, who had six turnovers. “We just proved to a lot of people that we can play with the elites. We have to look at this as a positive experience.”
It certainly should be looked at that way, considering where Syracuse was four days ago.
Syracuse had come into New York having lost four of five games, spiraling out of the top 10 for the first time in nearly four years.
But more than the losing was also the way they lost.
Seniors Bradon Triche and James Southerland were a combined 1-17 in a humiliating 61-39 loss to Georgetown last Saturday to finish the regular season. Triche was mired in an awful slump where he went through a three-week stretch going a combined 0-10 from downtown.
Once projected as a possible No. 1 seed, the Orange was in danger of being shipped out west as a No. 5-6 seed.
“Obviously, those 4 out of 5 games, you’re not thinking of yourself as a viable team in the NCAA tournament,” Boeheim said.
But one final tour through Madison Square Garden proved to be critical in turning around SU’s post-season hopes and raising its chances of a higher seed and a possible run through Philadelphia and Washington, DC.
After cruising past Seton Hall, Syracuse defeated a team it normally struggles against, Pittsburgh. Friday night, SU knocked off top-seeded Georgetown, projected as a possible No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament.
Triche was at the heart of the resurgence, hitting six 3-pointers, while being in double-figures all four games. Meanwhile, Southerland had a prolific Big East tournament, nailing 19 3s, breaking a Big East Tournament record held by current SU assistant coach Gerry McNamara.
Both were named to the All-Tournament team.
SU’s rediscovered offense has made them a dangerous team heading into next week.
“We got a great mentality going to the tournament, better than we did coming into this tournament,” forward CJ Fair said. “We know how we can play and we can beat anybody in the country. We had Louisville on the ropes and we beat Georgetown. They’re both top 5 teams. If you can battle with them, we can battle with anyone.”
Said Boeheim: “We played as well in New York as we ever could’ve hoped for. That’s really what we thought about coming down here to try to get ourselves back on track.”