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Thursday, Feb 20, 2020 at 12:41 pm

Syracuse falls apart in Louisville, its tournament hopes dwindling

By Nick Kuzma

CitrusTV Men’s Basketball Reporter

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – When the clock hit zeros at the KFC Yum! Center on Wednesday, you would have thought the home team just got blown out.

The seats were largely empty as many of the 16,428 fans at the game had already left, well on their way home.

The reasoning, however, was just the opposite. No. 11 Louisville Basketball (22-5, 13-3 Atlantic Coast) was dominating their opponent and the UofL faithful had seen enough.

That opponent was of course Syracuse, who has now five of the last six, including a current three game skid.

The Orange (14-12, 7-8 Atlantic Coast) were able to hang around for much of the first half but had trouble guarding Louisville’s Ryan McMahon.

“The one thing we wanted to do in the first half was to not let McMahon get free and that was the difference in the half,” SU Head Coach Jim Boeheim said.

The guard had 12 first half points giving the Cardinals a seven point first half lead.

In the second half, the game got ugly.

“I think they’re a really good team,” Boeheim said. “I think they’ve got a chance to beat anybody. Tonight we just weren’t good enough in the second half defensively or offensively.”

That breakdown resulted in a 90-66 loss and very honest press conference from Coach Boeheim.

“Let’s try to stick to reality, we lost this game because we couldn’t stop them inside and for good reason, they’re pretty good, they’re good passers, good shooters,” the 44 year Head Coach veteran said. “They hit some key shots in the first half when we were in the game and they’re better than us. It’s not hard.”

The Orange simply did not have enough to beat a Louisville team that was coming off back-to-back losses for the first time in conference play. Those defeats dropped the Cards six spots in the rankings and out of the top five.

“I think [we are] playing about as well [we] can play given what the resources we have, the players that we have,” Boeheim said.

Therefore, the Orange were walking into a bit of a trap. They went into Louisville facing a team that was more talented and potentially more motivated after being upset twice in a week.

“I told [my team] that they won tonight’s game with their attitude and mentality, UofL Head Coach Chris Mack said.

While this win galvanized the Cardinals as they head down the home stretch in ACC play, it may be the nail in the coffin for the Orange’s NCAA Tournament hopes.

SU has not been anywhere to be seen on Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology projections and that does not seem to be changing anytime soon.

With this loss, the ‘Cuse has no chance to snag a signature win to end the season as the rest of the teams on its schedule are below the Orange in the conference standings.

Still, the team at least, is not in the habit of giving up hope.

“I never lost hope,” Bourama Sidibe said after the game. “I always trust my teammates, even though [we’re] down by 20 at any point if you get momentum you can keep going, keep playing.”

Next up for the Orange, they get a rematch versus Georgia Tech in the Dome this afternoon at 4 o’clock.

SU dominated the Yellow Jackets (13-13, 7-8 Atlantic Coast) in December, besting them by 34 points, which was the second largest margin of victory for the ‘Cuse this season. The largest was a 51-point victory over Bucknell on November 23.

The Orange now have five regular season games before the ACC Tournament begins in Greensboro, North Carolina on March 10.

In order to secure an at-large bid, Syracuse will likely have to win out and win as many as three games (putting them, depending on seeding, in the quarterfinals, semifinals or championship) as a 5-10 seed.

Like I said, this seems very unlikely. The five losses at home in conference play hurt and Wednesday’s loss seem to have to put a period on an overall mediocre season. But still, you never know.

“It’s just looking forward to one game at a time now,” Buddy Boeheim said. “You can’t predict anything in the future now.”

npkuzma@syr.edu | @nkuz71