What Syracuse couldn't do offensively out of the gates on Friday, Cincinnati did with ease. The Bearcats came out and made each of their first four shots and nailed eight of their first 10 tries from long range to stretch the lead to double-digits in a hurry as a part of an 11-0 run.
Cashmere Wright had a pair of threes in the spurt, as UC jumped out to a daunting 25-8 advantage.
It wouldn't change soon after, either.
"Cincinnati moved the ball better than we did," Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim said. "They got some real good looks…"
The Bearcats doubled-up the Orange by the 5-minute mark of the half, holding a 34-17 lead. At that point, Cincinnati was a staggering 13-20 from the field and was actually wining the turnover battle against a usually protective and careful Syracuse offense. Couple that with SU shooting just seven for its first 23 from the field – and the rout appeared to be on.
"Cincinnati came out on fire," admitted Waiters. "You know we've got to do a better job at the guard position getting up on the shooters and contesting shots better than we did in the first half."
Syracuse responded with a mini 6-1 run to close out the half, thanks to a James Southerland three-pointer to kick things off – trimming the lead to 12.
The Orange was able to finally get within 10 for the first time since the 11:19 mark of the first half.
The teams then traded baskets before Syracuse began to attack the basket using Waiters and Brandon Triche. The two guards scored 12 straight points as SU made its best rally effort while the Bearcats lost their shooting touch from deep.
"I was just taking shots they gave me," said Waiters, who shot seven of 10 from three-point range in the loss. "They were open and I was taking them. I knew, as a basketball player, that my teammates were struggling and I had it going so I had that mentality where I'm going to try to bring us back."
While the Orange kept chipping away, UC struggled to get going – missing eight straight threes at one point in the second half. But with 5:21 to play, Sean Kilpatrick nailed a three-pointer to stretch the lead from five to eight.
The teams traded baskets twice before the intensity picked up at Madison Square Garden, and again Kilpatrick was ready to unload. He buried a corner three with 1:51 remaining, stretching the lead from seven to 10.
The dagger took the air out of the building.
"Cashmere just told me to stay in the corner, and then Coach was telling me to go to the corner because Kris Joseph, he was going to come up and play because Cash was hot," Kilpatrick said. "Once he played Cash, I was just wide open…it was a good thing Cash caught me."
Still, Syracuse nearly pulled out a miracle before this one was over.
Scoop Jardine, Joseph and Waiters each hit threes and Waiters added four free throws down the stretch. But the last one he shot, down two points with five seconds remaining, accidentally went in. It gave the Bearcats the ball back and they beat the press as Justin Jackson put a cap on the game with a dunk.
"I was trying (to miss) front rim, but when I don't want to miss – I miss and when I'm trying to miss – I make it," said Waiters. "It's awkward but things go like that sometimes, unfortunately it went in."
Syracuse will learn its fate, likely as a No. 1 seed, in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday and Cincinnati will play Louisville Saturday night for the Big East Tournament Championship.