No. 11 Orange on a roll heading into MSG
Swoon? What swoon?
Syracuse point guard Scoop Jardine and the rest of the No. 11 Orange have forgotten all about an uncharacteristic skid that began in mid-January and sent them from No. 3 to No. 17 in a span of two weeks.
''We stuck with it throughout the whole season,'' said Jardine, whose average of six assists is tied for ninth-best in the nation. ''Even when we went on a four-game losing streak, we stayed level-headed and we stayed within ourselves and we stayed believing in what coach was teaching us.
''It's a long season. We've got to continue fighting. We know March is what you work for.''
The first step in this month of madness is this week's Big East tournament, and Syracuse (24-6) is in a good place. Riding a five-game winning streak, the Orange finished 12-6 in the conference to earn one of four double-byes. They will play either No. 17 St. John's (20-10) or Rutgers (15-16) on Thursday afternoon. The Scarlet Knights outlasted Seton Hall 76-70 in overtime on Tuesday and will play the fifth-seeded Red Storm on Wednesday.
''We're not looking to take teams lightly,'' Jardine said. ''We're on a good note right now.''
The Orange practiced late Tuesday morning before departing.
''We go to New York with a good thing, the double-bye,'' coach Jim Boeheim said. ''It didn't work out too well last year (a loss to Georgetown). You're going to play a team that is coming off a good win and gain confidence from that. We'll see what happens when we get down there. These past two weeks have been good for us.''
During the most grueling portion of its Big East schedule, Syracuse lost six of eight - four of them against teams ranked in the top 16. The Orange avenged two of those losses, beating rivals Georgetown and Villanova on the road, and played only two games in the final two weeks of the regular season.
The respite was welcomed. Sophomore guard Brandon Triche was banged-up more than once vs. Georgetown, and freshman C.J. Fair has been nursing a sore ankle.
''You always are going to have some bruises at this stage in the season,'' Boeheim said. ''I think the easier last couple weeks have been good for us overall. There were a lot of tough games that we paid the price for to get to this.''
Jardine has been a catalyst in Syracuse's surge. He had 69 points and 31 assists with 13 turnovers in the five wins. And senior forward Rick Jackson continued his rock-solid play with 72 points, 40 rebounds, 18 blocks, seven steals, and six assists.
''I think right now we're playing our best basketball all year,'' said Jackson, named the Big East defensive player of the year after averaging 9.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in conference play. ''We've had our ups and downs. But now, we're back in the swing of things.''
The Orange's other two veterans excelled, too. Junior forward Kris Joseph had 59 points, 27 rebounds, 17 assists and nine steals, while Triche had 63 points and has made 29 straight free throws.
Syracuse's four freshmen also seem to be hitting their peak on this streak.
Fair had 40 points and 20 rebounds despite his injury. Dion Waiters added 24 points and nine assists. Baye Moussa Keita had 17 rebounds, six blocks, and eight points while averaging 11.4 minutes, and Fab Melo is coming off his best game - a 5-of-5 shooting performance for 10 points vs. DePaul.
Syracuse hit 7 of 9 from beyond the arc and shot a season-high 71.4 percent in overpowering DePaul 107-59 on Saturday, the most lopsided game in Big East history. And during the streak, the Orange have seemed at home at the foul line, converting 71.4 percent (45 of 63). Not bad for a team that was mired most of the season at the bottom of the Big East in that category.
''You never know who's going to get hot and what's going to happen,'' Jardine said. ''The thing we've got to focus on is to continue to play hard, play every possession at both ends.''
It's worked so far.