It looked like the same defense that has struggled throughout most of the 2014-15 season, especially against good teams. Syracuse allowed Louisville to shoot 54% from the floor in the first half and trailed by four heading into the locker room.
But in the second half, the Syracuse zone finally looked like the Syracuse zone. It was active, the rotations were crisp, the length of the Orange players denied penetration and deflected passes. It was the same defense that has been a staple of the program for decades.
"It really was our defense in the second half," junior forward Michael Gbinije said. "We had a couple possessions that went to the bottom of the shot clock. That's the type of defense we need to be successful in these next games."
After a strong first half, Louisville shot just 32% from the floor in the second, in large part because of the effort from the Orange. Syracuse prevented open looks from the outside, trapped in the corners and collapsed on bigs in the low-post. There was no room for the Cardinals in that half.
Despite only turning it over three times after intermission, Louisville was puzzled by the Syracuse zone. They were forced into bad shots and rushed shots on nearly every possession.
"We were just better," head coach Jim Boeheim said. "We were more active on defense. We kept them from getting the ball where they wanted to. We kept (Montrezl) Harrell from getting the ball down low. We were just a different team on defense and that really turned the game. I mean, we scored but it was mainly our defense that was the difference in the game."
With more tough opponents on the horizon, Syracuse will have to rely on that defense if they hope to continue to string wins together over the final few games of the season. One of the keys for the zone is not allowing penetration by the guards. Kaleb Joseph's maturation within the system is pivotal to that goal.
He was much better on Wednesday, looking more sure of his assignments while using his long arms to be disruptive. The Louisville guards never seemed comfortable. Louisville's best scorer, Terry Rozier, was just 6-18 from the floor. That was due to the guards preventing open looks from the outside and the front court playing strong defense in the lane as well.
If Joseph can continue to play like that, and the forwards can rotate as quickly as they did on Wednesday to prevent open shots from the corner and backdoor cuts, the Syracuse zone can return to the form that made it one of the top defenses in the nation over the previous three or four seasons.