Louisville Upsets No. 2 Syracuse 66-60
Syracuse waited too long to turn up the intensity against Louisville, and the second-ranked Orange paid for the lapse.
Samardo Samuels scored all eight of his points during a late surge and Jerry Smith sank a pair of clutch free throws with 17.8 seconds left as Louisville rallied past Syracuse 66-60 on Sunday.
The Cardinals (16-9, 7-5 Big East), who trailed by 11 in the first half, hung on to win despite missing 5 of 7 free throws in the final 1:41, including a pair by Smith just 2 seconds after the two he converted.
“We did a very good job of moving the basketball, taking smart shots, and playing good defense down the stretch,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “I thought our guys really played a very intelligent game, didn’t get down when they missed their free throws and let it affect their defense.”
It was the fifth straight win over the Orange for Louisville, which was 0-4 against ranked teams entering the game and in desperate need of a signature victory to enhance its NCAA tournament chances.
A glance at the box score showed one big reason the Orange’s 11-game winning streak came to an end: leading scorer Wes Johnson, nursing a bruised thumb on his right (shooting) hand, was 5 of 20 from the floor and had a pair of shots blocked in the final minute.
“I’m just missing shots,” said Johnson, who took a hard fall in a win over Providence two weeks ago. “It ain’t anything mentally or physically. My body is still not 100 percent, but I wouldn’t really blame it on that. The shots that I did take, I really just missed them.”
Samuels, who was assessed two early fouls, scored his first points of the game on a pair of free throws with 7:46 left and followed with a hook off the glass to tie the game at 50. Mike Marra’s 3 from the left corner gave the Cardinals a three-point edge and, after a 15-foot jumper by Johnson, Samuels made a twisting layup through traffic to put Louisville up 55-52 with 5:14 left.
Samuels’ dunk off an inbounds pass gave the Cardinals their biggest lead at 59-52 with 3:04 to go.
Six straight free throws by the Orange closed the gap to 62-58 with 64 seconds remaining, but Syracuse was unable to score again after Kris Joseph’s slam dunk with 31.9 seconds left made it a two-point game.
Joseph was then called for an intentional foul on Smith, who sank both free throws, his only points of the game, for a four-point lead.
Andy Rautins and Scoop Jardine missed 3-pointers in the final seconds and Rakeem Buckles’ slam at the buzzer capped the big win for Louisville, disappointing the Carrier Dome crowd of 31,053, the largest of the season.
Both of Syracuse’s losses—the first was to Pittsburgh in early January— have come at home.
“I just thought we weren’t aggressive enough in attacking,” said Rautins, who finished with 12 points for the Orange. “They shadowed me wherever I went. What’s frustrating is losing here. We’re not accustomed to that.”
Edgar Sosa and Marra each had 12 points to lead Louisville. Jared Swopshire had 10 points.
Johnson finished with 14 points, Arinze Onuaku had 12, and Joseph 10 for the Orange.
Sosa’s 3-pointer from the left wing with 13:24 left broke the third tie of the second half and gave Louisville a 42-39 lead.
After three turnovers by the Orange and two more by the Cardinals, Rautins hit consecutive 3s in transition in a 37-second span to put Syracuse back on top midway through the half.
But that free-flowing feeling was fleeting. Syracuse never got its high-powered transition game untracked against the Louisville defense, which limited the Orange to 41.4 percent shooting and just 12 fast-break points.
Syracuse entered the game leading the nation in field-goal percentage at 52.7 and ranked fourth in steals with 10.6 per game. The Orange only managed four steals against the Cardinals, who were patient, deliberate and strong under the glass when the game was on the line.
Louisville finished with 22 second-chance points to just 12 for Syracuse.
“We lost the game on the offensive end,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “We got some good opportunities and we got some good shots. We just didn’t convert. I thought we got a little bit frustrated with their defense. They played tremendous match-up. I just didn’t think we were aggressive until the end.”
In a 19-point loss on Thursday night at St. John’s, the Cardinals fell behind 12-0 and didn’t score in the game’s first 6:46. Against the Orange, Louisville went scoreless over the first 3:47 before Swopshire scored in the lane.
Louisville continued its early game woes, making only one of its first nine shots, and fell behind 22-11 on Jardine’s fastbreak layup with 8:14 left.
But Preston Knowles and Marra each hit 3s to key a 12-3 run in the final six minutes as the Cardinals stepped up their press and moved within 29-28 at halftime despite the awful start and no points from leading scorer Samuels.