Believe it or not, the Syracuse Orange performed a better embodiment of its saving graces and fatal flaws than the 44 point offensive face-flop against Virginia. Monday night at the Louisville Cardinals, SU played to its potential, navigating around foul trouble and closing a game with offense.
The Orange controlled the clock, hit 47 percent of its shots and allowed the Cardinals to make the mistakes. As Louisville stormed back on a late 10-1 run led by interior play, they began floating as they drew within four. All that combined with a mass of early Cardinals turnovers facilitated a 78-73 Syracuse win, the marquee road victory the team seeked all year.
Hope flashed early, centered around open lanes and efficient shooting between Tyus Battle and Frank Howard (both 7-of-15). Jim Boeheim believes his players can maintain enough energy through full games, but the trump card to that confidence struck: foul trouble. But nobody fouled out beside Oshae Brissett with 90 seconds remaining.
The Orange opened the game with a spot-up three from Howard and a tip-in from Marek Dolezaj. Paschal Chukwu didn’t shoot once against Virginia and his first post possession created points. Syracuse already appeared rejuvenated and more positive indications followed.
Louisville played off-balance on offense, trying to pass through the zone. On numerous plays, their pass attempts from the top to the bottom of the zone got tipped. Battle and Howard drove the floor for transition points, a category the Orange won 12-3 in the first half.
Syracuse never separated itself extensively, but maintained a steady competitiveness up 18-17. Then fouls piled up. Battle and Howard hit seven shots and eight free throws, but Dolezaj reached two, then three fouls.
Matthew Moyer entered with two in support, then quickly picked up a third near the end of the half. Chukwu and Oshae Brissett, who sparked a key 4-0 run mid-half, picked up two each.
The Orange pushed the lead to 10, riding off nine first half turnovers by the Cardinals and navigating around successful plays against the zone like Darius Perry’s baseline pass to Ray Spalding for a three-point play. Battle attacked Perry for a late three-point play of his own, but the weight of foul trouble piled up.
As Braedon Bayer entered for Moyer with one minute remaining, Battle lost a contact and had to stand on the sideline for minutes to fix it. SU did not have a substitution. Miraculously the referees waited, but Bayer had just traveled off Battle’s kick out. Perry nailed a half court heave to pull within 39-33 at halftime.
It looked like Syracuse’s foul trouble would undermine its enormous offensive success, with a field goal percentage in the 50s at half, instead both teams traded shots back and forth into the second. SU didn’t lose players, but defensive hesitancy increased. The Cardinals began scoring at will, but Syracuse answered nearly everything.
Brissett and Quentin Snyder traded threes. Malik Williams converted, and Brissett hit Louisville’s defense with another three. Howard made a jumper to simmer a 4-0 Cardinals run, then Battle finished inside and Moyer followed for SU’s first bench points.
Then, in another odd twist to a completely whacky game, Deng Adel stole a Battle pass and ran wide open in transition to the rim where he decided to take a spinning reverse layup. He hit it, but came up injured as David Padgett steamed on the sideline. Adel returned and shot 2-of-9.
The Orange extended its lead to 56-46 during this sequence, but fouls lurked again. Brissett reached four and sat down. Howard entered troubling territory committing two straight with 12 minutes to go, carrying three personals himself.
Again, the Cardinals chipped away even with the Adel injury and its bench unit in. Ryan McMahon hit all three free throws on Howard’s foul, Jordan Nwora broke behind the defense for two and Louisville pulled within five.
With the crowd fired up after the Card’s defense knocked Dolezaj off the ball, Howard drilled his third three on the left wing, then drove to the rim to preserve an eight point lead.
The bricks piled up for Louisville into the final quarter of the game, until Anas Mamouhd fed Spalding with a back door pass to pull with two, Spalding tipped a Mahmoud miss in next possession to pull within 67-59. Then Mahmoud stole a pass and finished after an in-bounds on the interior to make it six. Another stop later, Mahmoud hit a shot inside to cap a 8-1 run.
In the meantime, Chukwu picked up two fouls and Dolezaj earned his fourth on a Spalding make down low to make it 67-65. The Orange slowed the game down, draining the entire shot clock with fouls and fatigue undermining its defense. Brissett hit two free throws and Battle drained an elbow shot through contact to provide a six point cushion.
Inexplicably, the Cardinals began floating outside even as attacking SU’s foul-ridden interior got them back in the game.
Brissett fouled out defending on the wing, but the Orange’s clock-killing effort combined with a vital Dolezaj tip-in on Battle’s miss sealed Syracuse’s most important win of the season.
Dolezaj pumped his arm, Battle drilled five straight free throws to finish with 25 points and SU walked off with its first win against Louisville in the last four match-ups.
Syracuse moves to 16-8 overall and 5-6 in ACC play.