And at 17-1, 5-0 in the Big East, we should by all rights be #1 this week but that will probably be Duke, which is fine. Rankings don't matter a whole lot this time of year. Still is nice to knock off current arch-rival Louisville at their home court, when they are ranked #1 in the nation, and when we are (still) missing our 2nd leading scorer, James Southerland, to suspension. I honestly didn't think we had a shot to win this game going in. And as Louisville's pressing defense made sophomore Michael-Carter Williams turn the ball over a career high 8 times, I REALLY didn't think we had a shot to win this game. After an early 11-3 lead for Syracuse, Louisville turned up its trademark D and guards Russ Smith and Peyton Siva harrassed the shit out of MCW, starting a series of runs by the Cardinals that had them up by 8 or more several times in the game. But somehow, some way, Syracuse willed itself to claw back to tie the game time and again. In the first half, it was Brandon Triche singlehandedly putting the team on his back with 7 for 7 shooting and 4 for 4 from long range, totaling 18 points and going on extended runs of his own. But it was his assist to MCW for a half-ending 3-pointer that tied the game at 38 at the half. That was pretty much the grand total of positive plays the "star" sophomore guard (who has really struggled in Big East play) made in the 1st half. Louisville jumped out in the 2nd half on a 10-2 run but again, Syracuse slowly perservered and fought back. They held onto the ball better in the 2nd half, and Louisville didn't shoot as well, but Russ Smith (scoring a game-high 25) was absolutely amazing, and at several points I thought the game was lost. Coach Boeheim shrunk the bench to 5 players in the 2nd half - MCW, Triche, CJ Fair, freshman Jerami Grant, and reserve center Baye Moussa Keita. Triche and MCW both played 38 minutes. Fair played all 40. And Grant played 35, starting the 2nd half and never leaving, easily his career high. And he had a real solid game in place of Southerland, scoring 10 points with 5 rebounds, but he wasn't Southerland. Keita also played well, but after hardly playing at all in Big East play, it was more a reflection of Boeheim's view of Rakeem Christmas and DaJuan Coleman that Keita played almost the entire 2nd half. Offensive rebounding became a huge problem, as Louisville's man-child Gorgui Dieng got 5 offensive rebounds in the 2nd half (and Chane Behanen had 6 in the game), outmuscling the pencil-thin Keita and skinny Fair and Grant, leading to easy buckets and free throw attempts down the stretch. But somehow, Syracuse kept fighting back.
And MCW was the key at the end of the game. He scored 7 straight at one point and led the charge back to a 66-62 lead with about 2 minutes left. Louisville then scored 6 straight to take their own lead, 68-66. MCW got fouled (kind of stupidly, he was far from the goal), but only made 1 of 2. (Triche had missed the front end of a 1-and-1 during Louisville's 6-point mini run, obscuring a solid 15-20 FT shooting day). Trailing by one, 68-67, MCW made the play of the day (well, until Butler's miracle win later), stealing a Peyton Siva pass and running down the court for a dunk with under 30 seconds to play, giving the team the lead. Oh baby! (click on the pic for the live GIF)
After MCW missed another free throw, Syracuse led 70-68 but Louisville had the ball with 13 seconds to play, and Siva tried to get it inside to Dieng, but Dieng fumbled the pass and then MCW (!) ripped it out of his hands, pushed it ahead, and Grant had a jam as time expired. The bucket didn't count, but the win did. 70-68. Their most unexpected win in years.
Syracuse without James Southerland (and with MCW unable to handle the ball in the first half) is not as good as Louisville. We beat them twice last year, including on the eve of the tournament, but Louisville ended up in the Final Four while we were knocked out in the Elite Eight (after Fab Melo was deemed ineligible like Southerland now). But right now, and especially with how well Louisville played yesterday, they are the clearly better team. But we beat them. Somehow, some way, Brandon and Michael and CJ and young Jerami all found a way to win. Great job. And please come back, James. We really need you.