Beaten, But Better

The Orange make themselves better even with their championship loss to the Cardinals. More inside.

The Syracuse Orange came into their final Big East Conference Tournament losing four of their final five games.

They lost at home inside the Carrier Dome.

Then, they continued their woes on the road.

But, it was with this, their final appearance as a Big East team in Madison Square Garden, that they enacted a change in direction for the better.

Syracuse won three straight games, two of those victories helping to avenge regular season losses to the Pittsburgh Panthers and the Georgetown Hoyas.

They earned a spot in the tournament's championship game when most thought they may lose in their opening contest with the Seton Hall Pirates.

"We came to New York not playing well," said Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim. "We lost four out of five, and we needed to get ourselves going. We beat a team we usually don't beat, Pittsburgh. We beat a team, Seton Hall, which shot 50% from the field and 50% from the three, which nobody has done against us this year. And we beat a team (Georgetown) that beat us by 25 and 10 or 12 in the two games we played them."

Residing opposite them for the championship in the Garden was current, and also future, foe, the Louisville Cardinals, a team Syracue split their season series with 1-1.

The Orange opened with the lead off of a made three-point attempt by junior forward C.J. Fair at 18:39. Syracuse would have four different players connect from deep in the first half, never giving up their advantage, heading into halftime with a 35-22 lead.

But a game in not a mere 20 minutes, and what ensued changed the course of the game.

With 14:28 left in the second half, the Cardinals had lowered their deficit under double-digits thanks to junior guard Russ Smith's connection from beyond the arc, which made it 45-37.

Syracuse would never lead by double-digits again, and with 9:53 to go, they would not lead at all. Louisville freshman forward Montrezl Harrell took the feed by senior guard Peyton Siva dunking the ball down in the cylinder to go up on the Orange, 49-48.

Harrell would finish the game with 20 points on 7-for-13 shooting. He came in averaging 5.2 points per game. The closest teammate to Harrell in scoring attained half of his output, with Smith and fellow junior, guard/forward Luke Hancock, each gaining 10.

That dunk began the Cardinals ascent to their own double-digit lead, ahead by as many as 18 and winning by 17, 78-61, fittingly off of a jumper by Harrell.

The 32-point swing, from a 15-point Orange advantage to a 17-point Cardinals' win, came largely due to Syracuse's trouble with keeping possession. They turned the ball over 13 times in the second half alone. Louisville scored 15 points off of Syracuse's turnovers which led to Harrell's dunk to take the lead at 9:53.

A total of 25 points were scored by the Cardinals off of turnovers by the Orange in the second half alone.

Overall, Louisville added 32 points from Syracuse's 20 turnovers.

Siva created four of those turnovers off of steals. He is now the all-time leader in career steals in the Big East Tournament, with 29. Panthers' alum Brandin Knight attained 28 upon finishing his time in the tournament in 2003.

The Cardinals have now won two-straight Big East Tournament titles and are conference regular season and tournament champions for the 2012-13 campaign.

Louisville won the 2009 conference tournament championship as well. Their opponent? You guessed it, Syracuse, making Cardinals' head coach Rick Pitino 2-0 against Orange leader Jim Boeheim in the Big East finale.

On the positive end for the Orange, senior forward James Southerland bid a healthy good-bye to the conference by becoming its new leader in three-point shots made within a single tournament. He came in tied with Syracuse player alum and current assistant coach, Gerry McNamara, with 16. Southerland left Madison Square with 19 total, after making three in this match with Louisville, setting the bar even higher for future sharp-shooters.

Teammate, sophomore guard Michael Carter-Williams, recorded nine assists against the Cardinals, raising him to 36 total in this year's tournament, behind the all-time leader by a mere assist. That leader? Another Orange alum, Jonny Flynn.

Despite losing this match, the Orange admitted that winning three games in three days has truly changed their mindset heading into the NCAA Tournament.

They came to Madison Square Garden looking distraught, disheveled, depressed.

Syracuse left with new life, the feeling of success, and books written on two longtime opponents.

It was not a win for the Orange, but they are a little bit brighter nonetheless.

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