Heading into Wednesday night's matchup, Syracuse had won eight of its past nine games and looked like one of the hottest teams in the country, while Louisville had lost two of their past three since announcing their self-imposed postseason ban as a result of an alleged recruiting scandal. However, the roles appeared to be reversed during Syracuse's crushing 72-58 defeat, as it was the Orange who looked like the team with nothing to play for, getting outscored 50-20 in the paint.
Despite looking lost offensively during last year's meeting, losing 69-59, Louisville had no trouble this time around against Syracuse's 2-3 zone, easily using their decisive size advantage to work their way inside. In addition to their 30-point edge in the paint, the Cardinals also dominated the Orange on the glass, out-rebounding Syracuse 41-30.
Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim told reporters after the game that it was the disparity in rebounds which led to Louisville's decisive edge in the paint.
"A lot of offensive rebounds, our interior defense isn't great," Boeheim said. "We forced them to take a little bit tougher shots in the first half, and they missed that in-between shot. In the second half they really still missed it, but they got it back and that was probably the difference."
Six-foot-10 starting center Chinanu Onuaku – younger brother of former Syracuse big man Arinze Onuaku – led the charge for Louisville, finishing with 13 points and 15 rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive end. Syracuse big men Tyler Roberson, DaJuan Coleman and Tyler Lydon, on the other hand, combined for just three offensive rebounds, and only 15 boards total.
Forward Damion Lee also chipped in with 15 points and six rebounds for the Cardinals, and guard Trey Lewis contributed with 14 points and four rebounds.
While Louisville seemed to score with ease, shooting nearly 48 percent from the field, Syracuse struggled for the majority of the game against Louisville's ferocious full court press. The Orange finished 38 percent from the field, and 33.3 percent from behind the arc. Trevor Cooney was the Syracuse's lone bright spot, hitting five three-pointers to finish with a game-high 19 points.
Freshman stars Malachi Richardson and Tyler Lydon both struggled for the Orange Wednesday, shooting a combined four-for-16 from the field. Boeheim admitted after the game that Syracuse unfortunately doesn't have the luxury to overcome disappointing performances from two of their top players.
"Tyler has played great, he couldn't get the ball in the basket. Malachi has played great. They were four-for-16," Boeheim said. "They've been good, they've been really good. As far as freshmen, they've been very consistent. And they had a bad night. And we don't have room for error with having two guys having bad nights like that."
Syracuse will look to bounce back Saturday when they take on Pittsburgh at home in the Carrier Dome.