Every bounce went the Bearcats’ way on Friday night at Madison Square Garden in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament. Cincinnati started its game against top-seeded Syracuse on a tear, making 8-of-10 three-pointers, hustling for loose balls and taking the Orange out of their desired pace. Syracuse used a full-court press in the second half and some timely shooting to cut the lead, but it was not enough to overcome the deficit, losing 71-68.
Sophomore guard Dion Waiters led the theatrical comeback, willing the Orange back into the game with several high-arching threes. He finished the night 7-of-10 from long range. SU played with energy and urgency in the latter half of the second half, but the spotty showing early proved to be costly.
“I thought we really made as good an effort in the last ten minutes as we could make," said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim after the game. "But the first 30 we just really didn’t move the ball well."
The first 30 minutes certainly were a struggle. Syracuse shot a low percentage and failed to attack the Cincinnati zone. Boeheim said he couldn’t remember the last team that zoned SU, which could be a reason the Orange were not productive against it. Syracuse shot 29 threes and often found itself out-of-sync against what Boeheim called a “very good” and “very active” Bearcat zone.
Cincinnati slowed the game down to a pace that favored its style of play. The Bearcats limited Syracuse to just two fast-break points by running the clock and getting back on defense.
“They did a good job controlling the game,” Boeheim said.
“Scoop wasn’t there tonight." Boeheim said. "He [Joseph] didn’t get a rebound in 33 minutes, and he’s got to be there for us and Scoop has got to be there."
Without much offensive production from Jardine or Joseph, Waiters stepped up and manned the Syracuse offense. He created opportunities for himself and for others and was especially potent with his long-range attack.
Sophomore center Fab Melo was the only other member of the Orange to score in double-figures. He scored 11 points to go with eight rebounds. However, only one of those boards was on the defensive side of the court.
Despite a second consecutive poor performance in the scoring column (two points), C.J. Fair compensated by corralling 11 rebounds.
“We need him to be more of a factor,” Boeheim said. “I think he’ll be all right.”
Unlike in typical Syracuse game, the turnover battle was not a factor. The Orange defense has routinely stifled opponents with its length and quickness, but not Friday night. Cincy opened the floor by making shots and then fed Yancy Gates in the post. In his matchup against Melo, Gates scored 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds. His work on the offensive glass was a major issue for the back end of the Syracuse zone.
Despite the bounces going the Bearcats’ way, SU still found itself in a tightly contested matchup. But for now, Syracuse heads back home and awaits its seeding in the NCAA tournament.
Even after the loss, Waiters had an upbeat perspective.
“Tonight we came up short but it gives us a chance to go back to the drawing board and work that much more hard and get ready for the main goal at the end of the year,” he said.