It wasn’t easy by any means, but the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team (15-8 6-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) pulled out a 94-92 win over Louisville (7-16, 2-10 ACC) at the JMA Wireless Dome on Wednesday night. Chris Bell led the charge with a career-high 30 points, including eight made three-pointers, while Quadir Copeland converted the go-ahead bucket with three seconds remaining. Meanwhile, Maliq Brown chipped in one of the craziest stat lines I’ve seen in a long time: 11 points, nine rebounds, six blocks, five steals, and five assists.
The Orange offense functioned like a well-oiled machine in its first game without Benny Williams, who was dismissed from the team on Monday. Syracuse shot its best from the field 60.8% in any ACC game this season and scored the most points at home since Dec. 6, 2022, against Oakland.
The beginning of the game did not look promising for the Orange, who looked like they were stuck in Winston-Salem against Wake Forest. After Justin Taylor broke the initial ice with an opening layup, the Cardinals rattled off a 9-0 run thanks to six points in the paint and a triple by Brandon Huntley-Hatfield. A disgruntled Adrian Autry had to burn up his first timeout less than three minutes in.
From there, SU regained its footing. Chris Bell quickly drilled a corner three-pointer after a Maliq Brown offensive rebound, cutting the deficit to four. Bell and Brown each converted from close range on ensuing possessions, and a J.J. Starling pull-up triple from the right wing in transition highlighted a massive run and five-point advantage for the home team.
JJ for 3!— Syracuse Men’s Basketball (@Cuse_MBB) February 8, 2024
Orange on a 14-2 run
Autry switched the Orange defense back to Jim Boeheim’s iconic 2-3 zone. The pace of play absolutely took off from there, as each team routinely attempted shots within 10 seconds or less. At one point, the two squads tallied a combined 16 points in less than two minutes.
Despite allowing six first-half threes, the Syracuse offense capitalized on any missed Cardinals’ opportunity, mainly on the fast break. Following a Louisville make, Quadir Copeland heaved a full-court inbounds pass right to a streaking Brown for a layup seconds later. Soon after, a 2-on-1 fastbreak opportunity presented itself. Copeland dribbled down the right lane and fooled a Cardinals defender with a nifty fake behind-the-back pass for another close-range conversion.
Bell knocked down another three, this time from the right wing, in the first half’s waning moments. With already four triples, it was the perfect start for the streaky sophomore, who went a combined 0/7 from distance the last two games. SU led 49-44 at halftime, its most points scored in the first half since Chaminade on Nov. 22.
But the Cardinals came out playing bully ball with Huntley-Hatfield to start the second half. The forward confidently backed into Brown in the paint, netting a pair of layups to put Louisville in front 59-58. Syracuse heavily recruited the junior a few years ago, so it was only fitting that Huntley-Hatfield led the Cardinals with 19 points in enemy territory.
UofL continued to do damage in the front court, taking advantage of SU’s minimized post presence. Offensive rebounds were a hot commodity for the Cardinals, who got five of them midway through the second half and led by four with under nine minutes remaining.
For reasons unknown, Bell came out from the 12:00 to 6:00 mark in the second half. The Orange offense only made two field goals in his absence, allowing Louisville to maintain a four-point advantage until his return.
Brown helped pick up the slack, forcing a steal and delivering a perfect outlet pass to Mintz, who finished an and-1 to tie the game 79-79 with 4:31 to play. The forward put together an absurd stat line of 11 points, nine rebounds and five assists, complimented by six blocks and five steals.
Another three by, you guessed it, Chris Bell, put the Orange in front for good 84-81 at the 3-minute mark. It was his seventh triple of the game to give the forward 27 points, both career-highs.
Starling nailed all three of his foul shots to put Syracuse up 87-81, and Brown gathered his ninth rebound off an ensuing Louisville miss.
But the Cardinals did not go away, getting the game back within one after Skyy Clark sunk a triple from the left wing. Luckily, Bell didn’t go away either. The sophomore knocked down his eighth three on Syracuse’s next possession down the court, sending the Dome crowd into a frenzy.
The mood changed seconds later when Clark fired back with another three, knotting the game 92-92 with five seconds left. But the Orange were ready on the ensuing inbounds play, as Copeland collected a pass behind the Louisville defense and made a layup with three seconds left, giving SU the lead back.
UofL had one more opportunity to stun the Dome crowd. But Clark’s three-attempt clanged off the back rim as time expired, securing the win for Syracuse.