No. 17 Syracuse slips past West Virginia
Scoop Jardine figured Syracuse's season was on the line after three straight home losses. It isn't anymore.
Brandon Triche had 20 points, Kris Joseph added 16, and the 17th-ranked Orange rallied late to beat West Virginia 63-52 on Monday night.
After consecutive losses to Georgetown at home and Louisville on the road, Syracuse (21-6, 8-6 Big East) steadied things with four games left in the regular season.
''This game was big for us. This was our season,'' said Jardine, who finished with nine points, six assists, five rebounds and five of the Orange's 13 steals. ''We put ourselves into this hole and we have to dig ourselves out.''
Syracuse hadn't lost four in a row at home since 1962-63, four years before coach Jim Boeheim enrolled, and has won 12 of the last 13 in the series with the Mountaineers (16-9, 7-6), who dropped out of the Top 25 earlier Monday.
The Syracuse defense, victimized repeatedly in the first half from long range, clamped down late. The Orange held West Virginia to one field goal - Casey Mitchell's seventh 3-pointer, a career high - over the final 8 minutes and broke open a tight game with a closing 12-3 burst.
''It's a game of runs,'' said West Virginia's Kevin Jones, who was held to a season-low four points on 2-of-8 shooting. ''We knew that they were going to come on a run. It's all about how we handled it, and we didn't handle it well. We kept on turning the ball over, which gave them some easy shots. That was the game plan - not turn the ball over and control the game with our offense. We didn't do either one (at the end).''
Mitchell, who was 7 of 12 from 3-point range, finished with 23 points and John Flowers added 10 points for West Virginia.
Rick Jackson had 10 points and nine rebounds and C.J. Fair added eight points for Syracuse.
''We didn't make shots and we turned it over 16 times,'' West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. ''We turn the ball over 16 times, we're not going to win.''
Joseph started the closing run with two free throws. Fair deflected a West Virginia pass in the lane and scored on a driving layup at the other end off a feed from Jardine.
Triche, playing with four fouls, followed by stealing an errant pass and scoring on another driving layup, and Fair's bank shot gave the Orange a seven-point lead with 4:54 left.
''I think tonight we were really active on the passes,'' Joseph said. ''We were making it hard for them. That's the key for us. We've got to stay aggressive.''
Joseph then cut behind the Mountaineers along the baseline and slammed home a feed from Jackson with 3:36 left, and that was too much to overcome.
''We started to panic when we got down six or seven points,'' Mountaineers guard Joe Mazzulla said. ''Usually, we do a good job of controlling the tempo with our offense. It's hard to do that in a 2-3 zone. We forced it a little bit.''
In the Orange's six losses, the Syracuse zone was beaten for 55 3-pointers on 118 attempts (46.6 percent), and that trend continued against the Mountaineers. They made 11 of 22 3s but were outscored 34-4 in the paint, 19-0 on the fast break, and shot 36.2 percent for the game.
West Virginia hit 7 of 13 (53.8 percent) from beyond the arc in the first half, failing to score a point in the paint, and led 30-26 after consecutive 3s by Flowers and Mitchell in the final 96 seconds.
Syracuse started the second half with a flourish after a putback by Flowers gave West Virginia a six-point lead.
Joseph and Triche converted consecutive three-point plays and Triche and Jardine followed with 3-pointers to give the Orange a 38-35 lead with 17:14 left. Jardine hit his from the left wing after freshman center Baye Moussa Keita swatted a shot by Cam Thoroughman to start a break.
A dunk by Jackson, another three-point play by Triche, and a runner in the lane by Fair gave Syracuse a 51-42 lead with 10:57 left.
But Jackson missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and Joseph missed two free throws as the Orange went cold, and the Mountaineers capitalized to pull within a basket.
Keita made his first start of the season, replacing classmate Fab Melo, who did not play for the second straight game after missing two practices last week.
It was the 850th win in Boeheim's Hall of Fame career, second to Duke's Mike Krzyzewski (891) among active coaches. Still, Boeheim bristled afterward as he responded to criticism of the Orange's mounting losses after an 18-0 start to the season.
''I think people think the season's over. The season's over when we play 18 games in the league. We still have four more games by my count,'' he said. ''We lost four games to teams in the top 15 in the country. I think if we keep things in perspective, we're probably a little bit ahead at this stage of the season. It rains a lot here. Sometimes I think we need to keep perspective a little bit.''