A win would have extended the winning streak to three consecutive games and gotten the Red Storm back to a .500 record in the Big East Conference. It would have meant the first regular-season sweep of the Syracuse Orange since the 1992-93 season. And most importantly it would have bettered the team’s chances, with only four conference games left to play, of a Big East Tournament berth.
But the men’s basketball team accomplished none of the above with their opportunity Sunday at the Carrier Dome against Syracuse.
Instead, the Orange, off a career-high 37-point performance by the conference’s leading scorer, Demetris Nichols, defeated the Red Storm 76-74 and dropped them in the standings to 11th in the Big East. Only the top 12 teams qualify for the Big East Tournament when it starts up again in early March.
“When a guy is shooting it like that you just have to keep trying to get him the ball,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim told SUAthletics.com about Nichols. “At least that is the way we play.”
The Red Storm went into halftime with a 34-31 lead over the Orange, but Nichols changed that early in the second half. He went on an unparalleled tear, scoring 17 points in just over seven minutes of play and hit three of his total seven three-pointers in the same span.
“Demetris had a great game today,” Syracuse guard Eric Devendorf said. “He put us on his back and I was just hanging on for the ride.”Nichols also tied his career-best 10 rebounds and earned his second double-double of the season.
Despite Nichols’ stellar performance, the Red Storm was able to keep the game tight throughout. In fact, the Johnnies played what Boeheim described as the best he’s seen them play since the days of Chris Mullin. They never allowed the Syracuse lead to grow to greater than the six-point advantage they had with 14:54 left in the game.
The upcoming tournament was definitely on their minds.”Every game is important,” said freshman guard Larry Wright to redstormsports.com before Sunday’s game. “We’re trying to make the Big East Tournament so we have to take one game at a time and hopefully come out with a win.”
“It’s a big game for us,” said junior guard Eugene Lawrence. “We want to try and get up as high as we can before Big East play is over.” Lawrence recorded a double-double, 14 points and 10 assists.
Sophomore forward Anthony Mason, Jr. shot 9-12 and led the Johnnies with 21 points. Lamont Hamilton and Avery Patterson had 14 and 12 points, respectively.
The Storm have yet to qualify for the Big East Tournament in the Norm Roberts era. Their last appearance was in 2003 when they lost in the quarterfinals to Boston College 82-75 in overtime. They have not won the tournament since 2000 when they beat UConn 80-70.
The road to the tournament will grow increasingly difficult. The Storm’s upcoming schedule includes two games against Providence (15-8, 5-5) and one against Louisville (17-8, 7-4).
In their next game, the Storm will face an opponent in Rutgers (10-15, 3-9) who has very recently played spoiler to the Johnnies’ postseason aspirations. Just last season, the Scarlet Knights beat the Storm in the last game of the season, effectively ending their chances of qualifying for the tournament.