Coming off one of the most dominating performances in school history, a blowout laugher victory over Gonzaga, the Syracuse Orangemen returned with one of their worst performances in memory. Looking confused and tired, the Butler Bulldogs lulled the Orangeman to sleep on offense and dogged them on defense to gain the 63-59 win and earn it first-ever ticket to the Elite Eight.
Butler got rolling early, jumping out to a 12-1 lead as Syracuse turned the ball over 5 times in the first 6:30 of the game. Syracuse then clawed their way back to a 5-point deficit at 17-12 before Butler extended the lead to 35-25 before the end of the half, as the Orange coughed up the ball for 12 first half turnovers.
Syracuse came out roaring to start the second half, going on a 15-4 run that gave them their first lead of the game at 40-39 with 13:29 remaining. Butler hung tough, but Syracuse began to pull away at 54-50 after an Andy Rautins three pointer and Kris Joseph dunk. It looked at that point the top seed would put an end to the Cinderella dreams.
Butler would then stamp out the Orangemen. Ronald Nored and Willie Veasley nailed three pointers and Syracuse began to choke. Andy Rautins would then throw up an anxiety-laden three pointer which amounted to another turnover and Willie Veasley would slam the door shut with an offensive rebound put back with 0:59 left.
So what happened?
There were four major reasons why the Orangemen went down in a heap and to improve upon this disappointing performance, we need to isolate the breakdowns.
Syracuse was bewildered right from the beginning as Butler attacked on defense. Averaging just 15 turnovers per game coming into the matchup, Syracuse lost the ball 12 times in the first half and dug themselves a huge hole. The officials made it clear they were going to call the game loosely and Syracuse didn’t respond properly to the muggings that were occuring to Andy Rautins and Wes Johnson. It takes getting the refs attention that things could “get out of hand” to get them to change their lackadaisical whistle blowing. Some simple chest bumping and jawing could have changed the tone. Instead, a team which played pressing man-to-man defense with constant trapping was called for just 15 fouls when they could have easily been whistled 25-30 times.
While Jim Boeheim did some of the best coaching of his career this year, he should hand back the Coach of The Year award after this performance. His team was listless with no answers on offense. With 18 turnovers, their gaffes almost exceeded the field goals they made at 21. Rick Jackson needed Stickum for his hands and Scoop Jardine needed a lesson on team basketball, but Boeheim let it ride. His team could not get it together. They outshot Butler from inside and outside the arc, outrebounded them on the offensive and defensive end and delivered more assists. When your team does all this, dominates every stat and they still lose, a lot of blame goes to the coach. Boeheim simply couldn’t get them out of their funk.
No Transition Game
Syracuse had no running game at all last night. Their offensive style of up-tempo aggression was stopped cold. It seemed as though the players were just out of gas from the beginning. Some will blame this on the altitude in Salt Lake City, but I toss this on a team being tight and scared to lose.
Missing the pitbull in the center of the offense crushed Syracuse. Rick Jackson showed he was not Onuaku as he was embarrassing over and over on the offensive end. He could not force his way into position and forced the offense to gamble with it ball-handling. With no transition game to speak of, Syracuse needed to push the ball inside and Jackson didn’t answer the call. As Onuaku’s career comes to an end, he will always question whether he should have at least suited up for a just-in-case situation. That situation presented it last night and he was in street clothes. No Willis Reed moment was going to occur.
For Syracuse fans, disappointment comes with the territory of donning orange colored jerseys. Tons of talents with little hardware to show for it. Last night’s lost is another squandered season and rates right up there with other famous Syracuse implosions under Boeheim.
Here’s looking to next season and how they can disappoint again.