Not in the cards: SU loses final Big East Championship to defending champ Louisville

In the final Big East tournament for No. 19 Syracuse, the Orange could not hold on to a halftime lead, eventually falling to the No. 4 Cardinals, 78-61.

The No. 4 Lousiville Cardinals (29-5) won the Big East Championship for the second straight year and third since 2009. This time, it was a 78-61 victory over No. 19 Syracuse. The Orange (26-9) came out swinging in the first half, coasting to a 35-22 lead at halftime. However, the second half was all Louisville, who outscored the Orange 56-26, including a 44-10 run.

Photo: Taylor Baucom
Louisville forward Chane Behanan dunks in their Big East Championship victory over Syracuse 78-61.

“I thought that they were the best team in the league from the beginning of the year,” head coach Jim Boeheim said. “They proved that today.”

The Orange had Madison Square Garden blooming for most of the first half, where sophomore guard Michael Carter-Williams cruised to nine points on 4-for-6 shooting and six assists. Carter-Williams finished the game with 11 points, nine assists, five rebounds and four turnovers.

CJ Fair, who would go on to lead all scorers with 21 points, had eight first-half points, along with four rebounds.

Baye Moussa Keita continued his stellar tournament play with four points and five offensive rebounds in the first half alone. He would finish with eight points, six rebounds and three blocks.

It was the pressure of the full court press that did the Orange in, Boeheim said, rather than a poor defensive performance.

“It's very difficult to go back against a pressing team in the last game on the fourth day.” he said. “It wasn't anything to do with our half-court defense. Our half-court defense has been good all year; it was good tonight.”

Brandon Triche had a rough first half, with four turnovers to go along with shooting just 2-for-8 from the field.

In their farewell Big East tournament campaign, seniors James Southerland and Brandon Triche were both named to the All-tournament team. Southerland set the record for Big East tournament three pointers, with 19. Syracuse great Gerry McNamara held the record prior.

“I always feel confident in my shooting, even when the shots don't go in,” Southerland said. Southerland was 3-for-8 from three tonight, for nine points. He also grabbed a team-leading eight rebounds.

The second half was brutal for the Orange offensively. They turned the ball over 13 times, and allowed 56 points. They looked more like that team that had lost four of their last five regular season team than they looked like the tournament team they'd played like in the first three and half games. “They just had more life,” Southerland said. “They're a top-four team in the country, and they always fight back.”

Regardless of the loss, Boeheim and the players remained confident, and were thankful for the time spent in New York City.

“We played as well in New York as we ever could have hoped for,” Boeheim said. “That's really what we thought about coming down here, to try to get ourselves back on track.”

“The whole experience has been awesome,” Triche said. “We got to win against teams that beat us, and our chemistry went up tenfold.”

“All of us feel a lot better now,” Southerland said. “We're all confident in ourselves, and in each other.”

Although this is Southerland's first Big East championship game, he was poised and had the mindset of a seasoned veteran.

“No one is going to remember who won what conference tournament,” he said. “Everyone remembers the National Championship, and that's what we're looking forward to.”

The Cardinals have made their case to be a No. 1 seed, and could be No. 1 overall in Sunday’s NCAA tournament selection. Syracuse, meanwhile improved its seed dramatically. Prior to the Big East tournament, they were looking at six or seven. Now, the Orange is looking at a three of four seed.

“We were out of sync [before coming to the tournament],” Southerland said. “Now, I couldn't be more proud of this team.” 

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