We don’t need to go over the fact that the Syracuse Orange lost to the UConn Huskies at Madison Square Garden on Monday. If you’ve spent any time on the internet since that ugly 52-50 defeat, you’ve been reminded of it plenty.
But it’s worth noting that Syracuse has been struggling in New York City -- its “home away from home” -- of late. The Orange have lost four straight in the five boroughs, including two this year (UConn at MSG and South Carolina at Barclays). Going back a bit further, they’re 2-5 in their last seven downstate games. And they haven’t won by double-digits in Madison Square Garden since a 95-70 regular season drubbing of St. John’s in 2012. Since 2012, they’re 7-7 in Manhattan and Brooklyn (7-6 at MSG).
What’s the cause of these struggles, considering they’ve done just fine in other neutral site games during that stretch? On other neutral courts, they’re 19-6 in the same period of time, including two Final Four trips, and Battle 4 Atlantis and Maui Invitational titles.
It can’t be the quality of opponents. Those preseason tournaments above and the NCAA Tournament runs were also against excellent teams -- arguably better teams than just about any they’ve faced at MSG. And Syracuse’s own squads have been pretty good in that stretch (again, see Final Fours) too.
So is it just that some players can excel with the pressures of MSG and others can’t?
From 2009 through 2011, Syracuse was 11-4 at the Garden, with teams that all failed to make it past the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16. This, again, is in contrast to the recent squads, who’ve thrived in the NCAAs, but can’t seem to get it together in New York.
But those teams from 2009 through 2011 had characters and personalities — characters and personalities that could (and did) thrive on stages like MSG. This is far from scientific, but given the quieter, more humble nature of many of SU’s recent standouts, perhaps the bright lights are just a little too bright.
Former Syracuse guard Jonny Flynn was adored by the Garden crowds, and he soaked it all in. While I can’t find a link to the interview anywhere, around 2007 or 2008, Flynn told the Daily Orange that it was his job to put on a show for the fans at MSG. He loved and embraced that pressure and atmosphere. Eric Devendorf felt similarly, as you might imagine. He learned from the best in former Orange sharpshooter and current assistant Gerry McNamara.
If that isn’t it... I’m all out of ideas.
In any case, Syracuse will be back in New York City this March when the ACC Tournament comes to town. The Orange have yet to win a game in the conference tourney since they joined the league upwards of three seasons ago. If they have the personalities like Flynn and Devendorf on this roster, that would certainly be the time for them to show themselves.