Rushed Reactions: Louisville 78, Syracuse 61Posted by Brian Otskey on March 17th, 2013
Brian Otskey (@botskey) filed this report from Louisville’s second consecutive Big East championship game victory on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
Three key takeaways:
- Two words: Pressure defense. Louisville turned a 45-29 deficit into a 78-61 victory over the last 16 minutes of the game. The 49-16 run to close the contest was one of the more impressive feats I’ve seen in my years watching college basketball. After a few turnovers, it was clear Syracuse was rattled by the relentless Louisville pressure. It’s Rick Pitino’s calling card and it came through when the Cards needed it most. Louisville was awful defensively in the first half and that continued out of halftime as Syracuse hit four of its first five shots out of the locker room. That’s when everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) changed. Syracuse made just one field goal over the next 14 minutes as Louisville ran away with the game. People talk about VCU’s havoc defense but there is no team in the country that pressures the ball as hard and as efficiently as Louisville.
- Syracuse got flustered. Even while playing in front of a decidedly pro-Orange crowd (75-80%), Syracuse let the suffocating pressure get to them in the worst way. Nobody was more affected that Michael Carter-Williams, who until midway through the second half had played one of the finest games of his young career. Carter-Williams’ body language went south and his play suffered, culminating in a flagrant one foul call that was likely the result of pent-up frustration. The Orange were never able to regroup despite the partisan Madison Square Garden crowd and Louisville simply took it to them over the balance of the game.
- Louisville adjusted its offense and Syracuse failed to do the same defensively. Pitino’s team shot a robust 53% overall in the second half, including an impressive 12-of-19 shooting mark from inside the arc. Louisville worked the ball inside all second half against a Syracuse zone that had been extended out what seemed to be a good five to eight feet away from the basket all night. Louisville probed the high post and dumped it down low successfully with Montrezl Harrell turning out to be the main beneficiary of those sets. Syracuse never adjusted its defense, never more so exemplified by Kevin Ware’s baseline cruise and dunk with 8:24 to play that put Louisville up by nine points.
Star of the Game: Freshman Montrezl Harrell scored 14 of his career-high 20 points in the second half. It was a coming-out party for one of the better freshmen in the nation, someone who will make plenty of breakout player lists in 2013-14. Harrell, a former Virginia Tech commitment, had his way operating along the baseline and attacked the rim at will as the Syracuse back line defenders were helpless to stop him. This kid has the skill, athleticism and motor needed to excel at this level and will be a star in the years to come for Louisville and likely at the next level as well.
Sights and Sounds: The atmosphere inside the Garden on this historic Saturday night was nothing short of magical. Everyone in the building understood the significance of this game and savored every moment of the final Big East contest. It’s hard to fathom that this was the last Big East game for two legends of the coaching profession but especially for Jim Boeheim, someone who has spent the last 34 years of his life in this incredible conference. It was hard for the coaches and players not to take it all in even during such a hard-fought game. As for the crowd, there couldn’t have been one person in the arena who didn’t soak it all in, especially as the final minutes approached and the outcome was no longer in limbo. There will never be anything like the partnership that was the Big East Tournament and Madison Square Garden ever again.
Quotable: Louisville coach Rick Pitino on Peyton Siva, the tournament’s most outstanding player for the second consecutive year: “Peyton Siva now goes in a class with Patrick Ewing. Just a tremendous game for this young man. I told the assistant coaches before, Peyton hadn’t played well against Syracuse. I guarantee he plays well tonight. Very few young men in this business that I’ve coached is like him.”
Wildcard: With three more three-pointers tonight, Syracuse’s James Southerland set the Big East Tournament record for threes made (19 in four days). Southerland put on a show in every Syracuse game this week and broke former Orange star (and current assistant coach) Gerry McNamara’s mark of 16 set in the 2006 edition of this championship.
What’s Next: Each team will begin NCAA Tournament play next week after finding out their destinations and match-ups tomorrow night at 6:00 PM eastern. The Cardinals will likely receive a No. 1 seed, maybe even the top overall seed. Syracuse should fall anywhere from the No. 3 to No. 5 line when the brackets are revealed on CBS.