NEW YORK — With 15:50 left to play, Syracuse led Louisville 45-29, and seemed destined for their sixth Big East title in their final season in the Big East.
Not so fast, said Rick Pitino and the Cardinals.
Less than eight minutes later, the Cardinals turned that 16-point deficit into a 56-48 lead, thanks to a 27-3 run and a mercilessly attacking full court press. Louisville would go on to a 78-61 win, their third title since 2009.
Did Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim liked how his team responded to the pressure?
“Obviously not,” Boeheim said, offering no additional insight, when asked.
Flummoxed. Rattled. Flustered. Pick any word you want, but all were good adjectives to describe SU’s reaction to Louisville’s pressure.
“You have to give Louisville tremendous credit because they are, in my mind, one of the best pressing teams in the country,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “I thought they were the best team in the league from the beginning of the year, and they proved that today.”
They especially proved it in the stat sheet, where they caused SU to turn the ball over 20 times, generating 31 points off those turnovers.
Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams was the most effected, coughing up the ball six times.
“We had a lot of miscommunication between each other,” Carter-Williams said. “Their pressure, it was very good. They got in the passing lanes. They switched up their press a lot and we didn’t know if they were going to trap right away or off the dribble.”
On the times Syracuse was able to break the press, the Orange often settled for a shot out of the rhythm of the offense.
Syracuse shot 45 percent in the first half, while taking 31 shots. In the second half, they shot 33 percent on 18 shots.
“We just didn’t get the same shots we got in the first half,” Carter-Williams said. “I’m pretty tired after three days and to deal with the press on top of that is pretty tough. But that’s really the last time we’ll have to play that many games in a row, so we’re going to be ready for any pressure in the (NCAA) tournament.”
The sloppy came obscured another solid defensive showing from the Orange. While Louisville shot 53 percent in the second half as opposed to 25 percent in the first half, most of that came off turnovers, and not on set plays.
“It wasn’t anything to do with our half-court defense. Our half court defense has been good all year, and it was good tonight,” Boeheim said. “They’re the best pressing team that I’ve seen this year.”