Say what you may but the Garden has something special about it when it comes to the Syracuse Orange.
Gerry McNamara game-winners. The six overtime match between the Orange and the Huskies of Connecticut. Now Syracuse shooting better in one game than it seems they have in the closing stretch of games they played in the regular season combined.
The Orange appear brighter in Madison Square Garden. Maybe it is the way the lighting director connects with their jerseys on the court. Or maybe it is because the atmosphere they have created has changed.
Less than a week ago, Syracuse ended their final regular season in the Big East Conference with a finale that made them look depressed, distraught, down. Their rival had beaten them and they had amounted less than one point per minute, 39 in 40 minutes.
Now at the Garden, they had already surpassed 39 points against the Pittsburgh Panthers in the first half alone, achieving 40 in 20 minutes.
In their prior match also happening inside Madison Square Garden, Syracuse finished with 75 versus Seton Hall.
Their offense has taken some of the pressure off of their defense. The Orange made 16 of their 30 attempts in the first half (53.3%), guiding them to a 40-27 lead over the Panthers at the break.
But the match was not always in the hands of Syracuse. In the first half, both sides trading the advantage, with nine different ties occurring.
It was not until 8:07 left in the opening half, when a three-pointer from senior guard Brandon Triche, that the Orange would take the lead for good heading into the locker room.
Syracuse senior forward James Southerland matched his first half performance from the team's match with Seton Hall, scoring 17 against Pittsburgh as well. But, this time around, he shot even better. Going 5-for-7 from long range and 6-for-9 overall against the Pirates, Southerland went 5-for-5 from beyond the arc and 6-for-7 overall versus Pittsburgh.
Southerland, also like the previous game, would add another three in the second half. He finished shooting 6-for-6 from distance and 7-for-10 overall.
"It's a great feeling," said Southerland after the win over the Panthers. "I didn't realize I was 6-for-6 until I looked down at the paper now. I don't think about it. I just go out and play and make sure I make every shot."
Among Syracuse's two games in the Big East Tournament, Southerland has made 14 of his 21 attempts, meaning he is effective more than 66% of the time.
From three-point range, Southerland is 12-for-15; 80% of what he launches from distance has gone in.
He matched his point total from Syracuse's contest with Seton Hall, ending with 20 against Pittsburgh.
Though he was successful, Southerland gave credit to the Panthers' defense, which kept him to three points in the second half.
"They did a great job of staying with me," Southerland shared. "Even when I was moving, they did a great job of trying to be physical."
"But also opened up a lot of opportunities to get the basket with guys like C.J. [Fair], Brandon [Triche], and Mike [Carter-Williams]," Southerland added.
Despite surges by Pittsburgh in the latter half, getting the Syracuse lead to as low as one, the Orange never let the advantage escape their hands.
Credit goes to Carter-Williams for helping the Orange hold tightly to the upper hand by making all four of his attempts from the charity stripe with 27 seconds left in the match.
"I think the one thing with Michael [Carter-Williams], earlier in the year he missed some against Temple in this building," said Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim. "He's a competitor. He's worked hard at it. I could see that he was determined."
"Sometimes you have to go through those bad experiences to be able to come back in this situation and be able to make them," Boeheim continued. "And they were huge. I mean, I don't think we win the game if he doesn't go to the line and make those free throws. They (Pittsburgh) had a lot of momentum, and it would have been difficult for us if he hadn't made those."
Staying poised in time of need, focused as their lead dwindled is something the Orange did not show coming into the tournament.
"After going six or seven games straight with a lack of energy, I mean, we know we have to be urgent," said Triche. "We know that this means a lot to us, as a basketball team and as a program. This can very much jump start us to the tournament. So we know how important the Big East Tournament is."
Looking ahead, Syracuse head coach is not simply saying, "A win's a win," but, rather, looking to where the Orange can improve, coming off of this win.
"I thought - you know they're going to come back," said Boeheim. "I think offensively we weren't quite as good movement-wise in the second half. The first half, we out-rebounded them four, and the second half was minus 16. That was really the difference. They're a physical team. They're a very good rebounding team, and they just got on the boards. They're [a] very physical rebounding team."
Setting their sights on a third opportunity to take a win from Georgetown, a team that is currently 2-0 against them during the 2012-13 campaign, Boeheim knows the Hoyas will be more of a test than the Orange have seen as of yet. "We're going to have to play a lot better than we have in the two games we played," Boeheim remarked.
"Georgetown is a team that's going to play tough and physical," Southerland expressed. "So if you keep moving, getting people open and setting screens, we'll be fine."
Fellow senior Triche is not hiding how much he wants to hand the Hoyas a loss after losing their last two. "I want it a lot," Triche stated. "Them beating us twice, not too many teams have done that. I remember beating them twice, and the third time, they beat us. That was in the Big East Tournament. We're trying to pretty much return the favor. That means a lot. Anybody that beats you by 20 points, you want revenge."
Syracuse. Georgetown. Game three. A place in the Big East finale on the line. The saga that has been going on for more than 80 years, 30-plus years in the conference, continues at Madison Square Garden at 7pm ET on Friday, March 15th.