Syracuse Looks Championship Caliber in Toppling No. 1 Louisville on Road

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Syracuse Looks Championship Caliber in Toppling No. 1 Louisville on Road
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange defeated the top-ranked Louisville Cardinals on Saturday afternoon 70-68, reestablishing themselves as one of the elite teams in the NCAA.

In a hard-fought contest, the No. 6 Orange (17-1, 5-0 Big East) capitalized off of two late-game turnovers to escape the KFC Yum! Center with a crucial road win.

The game marked the second consecutive Saturday that the No. 1 team in the nation was defeated, with Duke falling to North Carolina State, and was the fourth time in program history that the Orange defeated a top-ranked team.

Brandon Triche scored 23 points, including five three-pointers, and Michael Carter-Williams scored the final four points of the game to put Syracuse on top.

Travelling to the hostile environment of Louisville is a daunting task for any team, but Syracuse’s poise during times of adversity proved to the nation that they are worthy of mentioned in the same breath as any of the top teams in college basketball.

The first half was a battle of runs, as the Orange led 14-7 with inside play and great outside shooting from Triche, but Louisville (16-2, 4-1) would fight back with its own three-point barrage.

After taking the lead, 19-18 on a Kevin Ware three-point shot, the Cardinals controlled the pace with good inside ball movement and capitalized on sloppy play by the Orange, which had difficulty breaking Louisville’s signature zone-press. The Orange turned the ball over nine times in the first half including five by sophomore Michael Carter-Williams, who had a difficult time with the quick hands of Louisville.

With 0:43 left on the first half clock, Syracuse reserve Jerami Grant battled for an offensive rebound off of a C.J. Fair missed shot and kicked the ball out to Carter-Williams, whose resulting three pointer tied the game at 38 going into the half.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino seemed to calm down his troops as the Cardinals emerged from halftime with a 10-2 run to give his team a 48-40 lead. The Orange would battle back as Syracuse would tighten up its defense and would hold Louisville to 29 percent shooting in the second half.

The Orange shot 7 of 15 from beyond the arc, showing no ill effects from long range in the absence of senior forward James Southerland, the Orange’s best three-point shooter, who was suspended for the second-straight game due to an unspecified academic issue.

With Syracuse trailing 68-67 in the final minute, Michael Carter-Williams’ turnovers looked to be the story in a presumed Orange loss. Carter-Williams shook off the goat label with a late steal which led to a break-away dunk, a defensive rebound that led to a foul call and another steal with 0:07 remaining would help Syracuse hold onto a 70-68 victory.

In eerily similar fashion to the game played between the two teams last February 13, an errant pass by Louisville’s Peyton Siva in the closing seconds helped seal the win for Syracuse.

Last season, Dion Waiters took away a tough pass from Siva with 30 seconds left to secure the win for the Orange. Saturday, it was Carter-Williams stealing the ball from Siva, who up to that point was abusive to Carter-Williams, forcing turnover after turnover.

A sloppy bounce pass to the bottom of the key from Siva ended up as a mishandled ball by Gorgui Dieng and another Carter-Williams steal to end the Cardinals’ reign as the No. 1 team in the nation.

Syracuse was ranked as high as No. 3 earlier in the season, but a tough loss to Temple at Madison Square Garden in the featured game of the Gotham Classic, would show a chink in the armor of the Orange.

In that game, Syracuse shot a woeful 19-of-34 from the free-throw line and the word was out that Syracuse’s free-throw woes would be its downfall.

Syracuse has cleaned up its free-throw problems, at least for the moment, going 74-of-95 from the charity stripe in its last six games for 78 percent from the line as a team.

With Jerami Grant filling in Southerland’s minutes with 10 points and five rebounds and the Orange getting quality three-point shooting from its guards, Syracuse proved itself deep and adaptable and put the word out that it was still one of the elite teams in America.

There’s no rest for the Orange as they travel home to face the Cincinnati Bearcats for a Martin Luther King Day matinee. The Bearcats(16-3, 4-1) are coming off an impressive 71-69 win over No. 25 Marquette. 

For Louisville, which was a few questionable calls away from sealing a victory, the loss stings, but the Cardinals also remain one of the elite teams in the country. They also know they will get a chance against Syracuse again on March 2 at the Carrier Dome and if Carter-Williams doesn’t clean up his ball-handling, the Orange could be looking at the wrong end of the scoreboard.

This was the 20th meeting between coach Jim Boeheim of Syracuse and his former assistant, Rick Pitino. The victory pulled the two coaches even at 10 wins a piece, but marks the third consecutive time Boeheim has defeated his pupil.

Boeheim had lost the previous seven meetings between the two.

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