Louisville shocks No. 1 Syracuse in Freedom Hall finale

Louisville gave Freedom Hall a memorable send-off.

Kyle Kuric scored all of his career-high 22 points in the second half and the Cardinals upset No. 1 Syracuse 78-68 on Saturday, providing one last highlight at their 54-year-old home.

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Louisville (20-11, 11-7 Big East) may also have assured itself a return trip to the NCAA tournament by sweeping the season series from the Orange (28-3, 15-3). Their only other loss all season came against Pittsburgh, and Saturday was their first road loss.

Although Syracuse led by eight points late in the first half, Kuric was a one-man wrecking crew in the second. He made 9 of 11 shots — including four 3-pointers — to make for a happy ending at Freedom Hall, before Louisville moves to a new downtown arena in the fall.

Trailing 42-39 early in the second half, the Cardinals found their inside game with three straight baskets in the paint that gave them the lead for good. Kuric had two of them, a fastbreak dunk and layup.

In a span of just over five minutes, Kuric also had all four of his 3-pointers. After his second one, Syracuse’s Scoop Jardine immediately answered with a 3, so Kuric simply answered right back with another one. Jardine finished with 20 points.

With under four minutes left, it was Kuric’s dunk that pushed the Louisville lead to 10, and he got another one on a break that buried the Orange with under two minutes left.

It was a completely different game in the first half, when Syracuse dominated the paint, getting 26 points there compared to 12 for the Cardinals.

Syracuse took an early 21-20 lead with more than six minutes to go in the first half on a dunk by Rick Jackson, then stretched it to a game-high eight points a couple minutes later after a 3-pointer and fastbreak layup by Jardine.

Edgar Sosa nailed a 3 seconds before halftime to make it 35-30 at the break.

Although the Cardinals connected on 46 percent of their shots and the Orange 44 percent by the end, the two were cold from the gate, combining for 11 shots but no points over the opening three minutes. Jerry Smith finally hit consecutive 3s for the Cardinals, and later turned in one of the more dazzling plays of the game, grabbing a steal out of midair and cruising the other way to finish with a one-handed dunk.

Smith was sidelined the second half after injuring a finger on his right hand.

This one had all the pageantry of the final Louisville game in one of college basketball’s most storied venues. The stands were filled long before tipoff, and fans waved towels with glowing red flashlights during player introductions.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino, sporting a bright red suit coat to match the attire of most fans in attendance, introduced the team’s seniors before the game and expressed some sentimental thoughts about Freedom Hall.

“This building will close, but what our legends have done for our university will never pass and close,” he said.

Freedom Hall has hosted six national championship games, a handful of NCAA tournament regional finals and 683 Louisville victories.

Denny Crum, who led the Cardinals to national titles in 1980 and 1986 and whose name is adorned on the court, was introduced at halftime alongside players from those teams.

“I love them all,” Crum said. “It’s just really fun to be here, be around them.”

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