SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The Louisville Cardinals and Syracuse Orange each learned a lesson Saturday, and their Hall of Fame coaches won’t have long to wait to see the results on the floor.
The No. 8 Cardinals (20-5, 8-4 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) and Orange (16-10, 8-5) will play at the Carrier Dome in an ESPN Big Monday showdown featuring a pair of coaches, Louisville’s Rick Pitino and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, who have combined for 1,764 wins and three national championships.
It’s also a key ACC matchup as Louisville, Syracuse and five other teams are bunched at the top of the standings – separated by just 1 1/2 games.
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In a 71-66 home win over Miami Saturday, Louisville junior guard Quentin Snider returned after missing six games with a hip injury and sophomore forward Deng Adel and senior center Mangok Mathiang returned from one-game suspensions for violating curfew. The Cardinals had to rally from a 14-point first-half deficit because, as Pitino said, they expected to just show up and win with their team whole again.
“This was a great lesson,” Pitino said. “They were the better basketball team tonight, but we showed incredible character to win this game. We’re real proud of that, probably our best game of the season in terms of character because we didn’t have it tonight in any phase of the game.
“Three or four of our guys didn’t play physical. We let them go by us on straight line drives. We didn’t rebound well. We didn’t shoot well. We didn’t pass well. But then when the game was on the line we did all of the above.”
Adel and sophomore guard Donovan Mitchell scored 18 points each and Snider added 13, including a 3-pointer with 41 seconds remaining, as the Cardinals clinched their 15th consecutive 20-win season. Duke, Gonzaga and Kansas are the only other schools with at least 15 consecutive 20-win seasons.
The Orange, meanwhile, learned their lesson the hard way as they fell at Pittsburgh 80-75 to snap a five-game winning streak. The defenders at the top of Syracuse’s 2-3 zone failed to find Pittsburgh’s Cameron Johnson, who shot 6 for 8 from 3-point range as the Panthers shot 48.1 percent overall for the game.
Traditionally strong defensively, the Orange rank 108th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings this season.
“He’s a good shooter. We know that. We can’t give him open shots,” Boeheim said of Johnson. “We’ve done that pretty much throughout the whole year. We’ve let the best shooter on the other team get too many looks. That’s a reason we’re struggling this year.”
The Orange offense also struggled Saturday as sophomore forward Tyler Lydon, who’s averaging 13.8 points per game, was limited to 8 points on 3-for-7 shooting. Freshman guard Tyus Battle, who scored a career-high 23 points in a 66-62 upset of then-No. 9 Virginia Feb. 4 and hit a 3-point buzzer beater to upend Clemson Feb. 7, was limited to 16 minutes and scored just two points against the Panthers because he was ill.
Battle said after the game he’ll “be better on Monday.”
Fifth-year senior transfer Andrew White leads the Orange in scoring at 17.7 points per game and has reached double figures in all but one of Syracuse’s games this year. Mitchell (15.1 points per game), Snider (12.1) and Deng (11.4) are the Cardinals’ top scorers and Louisville’s most prolific 3-point shooters who will challenge Syracuse’s perimeter defense.
Monday’s game will likely include a tribute for former Syracuse center Fab Melo, who died Saturday in his native country of Brazil. Melo spent two seasons with the Orange from 2010-12 before being drafted by the NBA’s Boston Celtics.