Louisville upbeat despite 58-49 loss at Syracuse

JOHN KEKIS AP Sports Writer Published:

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) -- Louisville was executing coach Rick Pitino's game plan to perfection against second-ranked Syracuse.

The Cardinals took a six-point lead over the Orange midway through the first half with hopes of ruining Senior Day in the Carrier Dome. But after Orange center Fab Melo was called for goaltending on Chane Behanan's hook in the lane to give the No. 19 Cardinals a 15-9 lead, they didn't get their next basket until Russ Smith's breakaway layup with 1:33 left.

A 12-0 run had Syracuse in control, and the Orange cruised to a 58-49 victory on Saturday over their nemesis, leading by as many 19 before it was over.

"I thought the first seven minutes we played as well offensively and defensively that you can play against their zone," Pitino said. "But then -- and it's been our Achilles' heel -- we keep missing open shots."

Lots of open shots. The Cardinals finished 2 of 23 (8.7 percent) from behind the arc -- after Wayne Blackshear opened the game with a 3 from the left corner. Kyle Kuric was 1 of 7, and Russ Smith and Chris Smith combined to go 0 for 11 from long range.

Brandon Triche scored 18 points, Dion Waiters had 13, and Kris Joseph 11 as Syracuse finished the season unbeaten at home.

Syracuse (30-1, 17-1 Big East) capped only its second unbeaten season in the Carrier Dome since it opened in 1980, going 19-0. The only other team to go undefeated in the dome was the national championship squad of 2002-03 led by Carmelo Anthony, which finished 17-0.

"They've done everything you could ask them to," Orange coach Jim Boeheim said. "It's a very unselfish team. They look for each other. They've had just a tremendous season."

The Orange also matched the conference record for victories set in 1995-96 by Connecticut and finished the regular season with 30 wins for the first time in Boeheim's 36-year tenure.

"There are a lot of games they should've lost, but they didn't because they have veterans," Pitino said. "The thing that I like so much about this (Syracuse) team is they make shots. We should have beaten them at our place. They're a very good team. We'll see if they're a great team come tournament time."

Despite the setback, Pitino was optimistic as the Cardinals (22-9, 10-8) prepare to head to New York City for the Big East tournament.

"We're very excited," he said. "I think we'll be a different basketball team then as we go in there, and we'll play a lot faster. We'll play faster against everybody and I think that will help us immensely. When you play slow and everything's a jump shot, that's difficult."

Syracuse, which has a double-bye heading into Madison Square Garden, held the Cardinals to a season low in points.

"They played great defense and we stopped being aggressive," said Louisville point guard Peyton Siva, who took only two shots and had four points to go with six turnovers. "They did a great job playing the lanes today and they made great adjustments. They're not ranked No. 2 for nothing."

Chane Behanan and Smith led Louisville with 10 points apiece, while Gorgui Dieng finished with six on 3-of-13 shooting.

It was the Orange's second straight victory over Louisville after they snapped a seven-game losing streak against the Cardinals with a 52-51 victory at the KFC Yum! Center on Feb. 13, scoring the game's final six points. That game was a defensive struggle as both teams shot just under 35 percent, with the Orange going 1 of 15 from long range.

This one was more of the same at the outset before Syracuse came alive.

Waiters scored six points to key that 12-point run, his spinning layup through the lane eliciting a huge roar from the crowd. Fab Melo's block on Dieng then sent Triche in for a fast-break layup and two free throws by James Southerland gave Syracuse a 26-16 lead with 4:00 left in the first half.

Louisville lost at home to South Florida, 58-51 on Wednesday night, managing a season-low 17 points in the first half, and the Cardinals trailed 26-19 at the break in this one.

Triche, who hadn't reached double figures in the past seven games, scored the first eight points of the second half to boost the lead to 15. He hit a 3 from the right side to open the period and followed his own miss on a lob, forcing the Cardinals to call a timeout as the game kept slipping away. Triche then swished another 3, this one from the left corner after a pretty passing play with Melo, Joseph and Scoop Jardine.

Consecutive baskets by Russ Smith stopped the surge, but only briefly. Two layups by C.J. Fair, Joseph's 3, and a steal and layup by Waiters boosted the lead to 45-27 with 13:00 left.

The Cardinals had a late charge in them, though. Kuric converted a layup and a 3 from the left corner, his first baskets of the game, and Siva's layup moved Louisville within 50-40 as Syracuse went nearly 6 minutes without a point.

Four free throws by Triche and a 3 by Waiters in the final 3 minutes sent the hometown crowd into one last frenzy and put a stamp on a remarkable season.

"It's awesome to get 30 wins in a season," Triche said. "Any time you can get a "W'' it don't matter who it's against. We ended the season playing pretty well. That's all you want to do.

"It's pretty impressive when you look at it five years from now," he added. "Right now, if we don't do well (in the postseason), 30 wins is going to mean nothing."

Joseph, Jardine, who failed to score for the second time this season against Louisville, and reserves Brandon Reese, Nick Resavy and Matt Tomaszewski were honored in a pregame ceremony on Senior Day.