The Syracuse Orange's late-season downward spiral continued Saturday, as the visiting Louisville Cardinals scuffled its way to a 58-53 victory at the Carrier Dome.
The loss was Syracuse's third consecutive in a week's time and, in a lot of ways, was the same crap we've been watching for the whole month of February.
Despite a pitiful first-half performance, which ended with the Orange trailing 23-19, the home team found some life taking a 48-47 lead after C.J. Fair hit a jumper with 2:52 remaining in the game.
SU seemed to have all the momentum and looked destined to snap its skid, but the offense sputtered in the closing minutes thanks to a few costly turnovers by senior Brandon Triche, who missed a shot and committed three turnovers in the closing moments, and an ill-advised 3-pointer by point guard Michael Carter-Williams.
Tied at 48, Louisville took a 51-48 lead after Luke Hancock nailed a go-ahead 3-pointer with :52 to go.
In a hurry to tie the game (for some reason), MCW raced down the court and chucked up a contested off-balance 3 that missed.
The No. 10-ranked Cardinals collected the rebound, Triche fouled Louisville guard Russ Smith, who knocked down both of his free throw attempts and pushed his team's lead to 53-48.
The next SU possession featured Triche turning it over for the third time in four possessions, and then Louisville taking a 54-48 lead after Kevin Ware made one of two free throws.
The comedy of errors helped the Orange drop to 22-7 overall and 10-6 in the Big East Conference (a tie for sixth place).
Fair led all scorers with 19 points and added six rebounds. MCW had a steady performance of 11 points, seven rebounds, six assists and one turnover, while James Southerland tallied 13 points (3-for-5 from behind the 3-point arc) in his best performance since returning to the lineup.
However, the biggest story will be Triche's superpower of becoming invisible. The four-year starter scored eight points on 2-for-11 shooting, including 0-for-3 from behind the 3-point line, and committed seven turnovers.
To put it lightly, Triche has been very bad and it has become such an issue that his head coach Jim Boeheim is acknowledging it.
JB (on Triche): I don't know why he's not playing well, but he's our guy. We're past the trading deadline anyway (smiles).— Jeremy Ryan (@JeremyRyan44) March 2, 2013
JB: Brandon doesn't play well when he tries too hard. We're not going to win when he doesn't play well.— Jeremy Ryan (@JeremyRyan44) March 2, 2013
JB: I love Brandon Triche, but we can't have him play this way.— Jeremy Ryan (@JeremyRyan44) March 2, 2013
JB: He's (Triche) a good teammate, works hard, wants to win, but I don't like how he's playing right now.— Jeremy Ryan (@JeremyRyan44) March 2, 2013
In the locker room, Triche seems to be struggling with it all too.
.@nhconditions I'll upload the video later, but Triche looked very sad in the locker room. I feel bad for him. You can tell he is depressed.— Jeremy Ryan (@JeremyRyan44) March 2, 2013
Look, it is easy to get negative after three straight losses and there will be a lot of fans amped after this one.
But, again, let stop a look at the big picture. First, Syracuse was terrible in the first half (19 points!!!) and, other than the late-game lapse, played very well in the second half -- something we haven't seen in the past few games.
Second, for the first time in over a month Syracuse showed some fight. MCW was out-hustling Louisville players and making big plays. Southerland made a 30-footer and decided to NOT keep shooting them, but instead let the shots come to him.
This team is what it is right now -- a work in progress -- and it is extremely frustrating.
But, so what if the Orange do not get a No. 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The big thing is the Orange (Brandon Triche) needs to shake off the bad stuff and figure it out before it becomes a one-and-done situation.
Right now, it is not a one-and-done situation. Syracuse is in the NCAA Tournament. Now, lets just figure it out.