It has reached crunch time for the Orange.
After losing a golden opportunity to beat a third top-10 opponent in the last two weeks, SU now has only four regular season games left to make its case for an invitation to March Madness.
While the Orange certainly gave the Dome faithful a glimmer of hope and a reason to stay in their seats, the last-second overtime loss to Louisville proved Jim Boeheim’s scrappy squad still hasn’t found its grove yet. And time is running out.
“We have to make sure we don’t put ourselves in that position moving forward,” reasoned Andrew White III, who somehow, someway managed to score 20+ points for the seventh straight game.
White, who seems to disappear for stretches during the game, and John Gillon directed SU’s comeback that Boeheim called an “unbelievable battle.”
It would have helped if SU was better that 24% from the three-point line and 40% overall. On the other end, the Cardinals struggled mightily from the charity stripe, making only 16-30 foul shots to keep the game close.
After a spirited comeback in regulation and then in the extra five-minute overtime period, missed opportunities doomed he Orange. SU’s last chance to send the contest to a second overtime was snuffed when Tyler Roberson, shooting 50% on the year from the foul line, missed two free throws in the closing seconds.
“We got the shots we wanted. We just couldn’t make them,” Boeheim said after the game. “That’s just the way it goes.”
Gillon, who hasn’t found his range consistently since his 43-point outburst against NC State Feb. 1, had the ball in his hands and the chance to seal a dramatic victory in regulation but turned the ball over on a questionable non-call.
“We know we can win these games,” Gillon said. “We need to have a solid win and not the heroic comeback.”
While Boeheim has, for some time, come to grips with the team’s defensive deficiencies, he still could not have been more proud of his team’s effort against old friend, Rick Pitino’s squad.
“We played as hard as we ever played,” he said. “We did an unbelievable job fighting back.”
There’s no question the Hall of Fame coach still has his competitive edge. During the game’s final moments, after a questionable call, Boeheim threw off his sports coat. He quickly put it back on.
“When you’re down against Louisville and have a comeback like that,” Boeheim said, “then that’s an impressive accomplishment.”
White, who along with Tyler Lydon and Gillon, didn’t get a breather in the 45-minute contest, wasn’t going to use fatigue as a reason for the defeat. Nevertheless, the Orange will need everyone to step up another level to become a tourney team.
“These are huge games and our guys are used to playing big minutes,” White said. “We just have to keep moving.”
While Boeheim hopes the Orange can gain the much-needed consistency heading into the home stretch, his team will continue to flex its muscles with a “never-say-die” attitude.
“Our back is up against the wall but nobody is giving up,” White added. “We have to keep moving.”
Next up, there’s a trip to Georgia Tech on Sunday followed by the much-anticipated Dome-tilt with Duke.