Cohen: Triche, Southerland leave Syracuse with mixed legacies
ATLANTA — In a way it made sense for their careers to end like this, draped in disappointment and missed shots with fulfillment a few points beyond their reach. They are simultaneously historic and humbled, at once the winningest duo in school history and one that never managed to win a tournament.
Brandon Triche and James Southerland, two seniors whose careers came to an end Saturday with Syracuse’s 61-56 loss to Michigan, put forth four years of good not great, of hard work but with no hardware to show for it. The most successful stretch in Syracuse history came to an end with a less-than-stellar effort from two players that always hovered at less than spectacular.
“As a senior, you know this is your last chance,” assistant coach Adrian Autry said. “You want to try to take advantage and seize opportunities. I think as a freshman and sophomore you think you’re invincible.”
And Saturday inside the Georgia Dome, where Syracuse had a chance to return to the national championship game for the first time in 10 years, the seniors who won more than anyone else were outplayed by a freshman who is experiencing winning — and the starting lineup — for the first time.
Mitch McGary, a 6-foot-10-inch forward not yet old enough to drink, handled the limelight with ease while displaying the poise and maturity expected from his counterparts. He scored 10 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out a career-high six assists while leading the Wolverines to an 11-point halftime lead that Autry said created “an uphill battle all game.”
And for the players who won so many times in their career, that final hill was a bit too steep.
Winning had been steady in Triche and Southerland’s reign, but little else ever was. Triche, who started every game he ever played for Syracuse, began as a point guard, moved to shooting guard and this year drifted somewhere between the two. And Southerland, a sweet-shooting forward with oodles of athletic ability, endured a rollercoaster career that included academic ineligibility, a stint in Jim Boeheim’s doghouse and 3-point shooting that was beautiful at times and brick-filled at others.
Twice the two players were part of teams seeded No. 1 in both the Big East and NCAA Tournaments. Twice they came up without a trophy.
Triche never morphed into the assassin that Boeheim thought he could be — in 2012 Boeheim said Triche didn’t realize how good he was — and failed to fill the go-to role that Dion Waiters craved a season ago. And Southerland, who set the Big East tournament record for most 3-pointers, did little to expand his offensive repertoire besides the predictable — and on Saturday easily guardable — catch-and-shoot from beyond the arc.
Though they combined for 16 points against Michigan, Southerland was held scoreless for the first 38 minutes and Triche fouled out as his team attempted to make a comeback in the waning moments.
The former missed his first seven shots including wide-open looks from beyond the arc. The latter passed up open opportunities in the lane and attempted only nine shots. When he was finally aggressive — and Syracuse trailed by two with fewer than 30 seconds remaining — he picked up a charge that sealed the game and ended his college career.
“I was surprised (at how they played),” forward C.J. Fair said. “Definitely looking at James, he missed some 3s that he normally makes 100 percent of the time. Of course when you depend on that player to make those shots it kind of hurts. You get frustrated because you know he can make that.”
But for four years what Triche and Southerland could do and what they did do have been two different worlds. They sat at the podium after the final buzzer sounded and said they came out flat in the biggest game of their lives. The energy was low. They weren’t as active as they normally are on defense.
All things that are disheartening for Syracuse fans who see the potential and not the results, the glimpses but never the consistency.
Meanwhile, a Michigan freshman seized the moment that Triche and Southerland could not. McGary picked the 2-3 zone apart out of the high post in the first half, making intelligent decisions that required him to read and react to a defense that stymied Indiana a week and a half ago.
McGary tripled his season-high in assists by catching at the elbows and either kicking out to shooters or finding cutters down low. He looked like a player in his seventh year, not a player making his seventh start.
“He’s a terrific player as a freshman,” Triche said. “I give him all the praise, just being able to come into the tournament and dominate. He really dominated.”
At one point he even grabbed a long rebound and led a fast break himself, his 250-pound frame gliding across midcourt before leaving a perfect no-look pass to Tim Hardaway Jr. for a layup.
What McGary has done in one year, Triche and Southerland failed to do in four. They were senior leaders who, at the season’s most pivotal point, could not take the lead.
It left them one game shy of rewriting a misleading legacy. They’ve won more games than anyone else, but they have no hardware to show for it.
And Syracuse’s historic duo left humbled once again.
Michael Cohen is a staff writer at The Daily Orange, where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; or on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13.
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