Men's Basketball

Inconsistency returns to doom Syracuse’s season in NIT-ousting 85-80 loss to Ole Miss

Jacob Greenfeld | Asst. Photo Editor

All season, inconsistency has been the only constant.

Syracuse’s players trudged through the Carrier Dome tunnel leading to its locker room in the while some fans headed toward exits and others sat distraught in their seats staring at the court. The Orange walked that tunnel twice more than it had intended when the season began and for the final time on Saturday.

This SU team wasn’t supposed to be playing in the National Invitation Tournament. It was ranked 19th in the nation to start the season with hopes in that other postseason tournament. The Orange was supposed to follow up on its Final Four run. Yet that didn’t happen and against weakened NIT competition the most prevalent themes of Syracuse’s season both lifted it and plagued it one final time.

Again, the Orange showed a relentless fight to come back and horrid perimeter defense once it did. The third of Andrew White’s back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers was answered by a Deandre Burnett 3. Two minutes later, Burnett pulled up again to give Mississippi a four-point lead with 82 seconds left.

John Gillon, the player who Syracuse’s season has depended on, took the Orange’s next shot to tie the game. Once it missed, SU needed to foul. There were no more magical comebacks. Syracuse’s season was over.

“This game is a microcosm of our season,” Orange head coach Jim Boeheim said.

No. 1 overall seed SU (19-15, 10-8 Atlantic Coast) lost, 85-80, to No. 5 seed Ole Miss (22-13, 10-8 Southeastern) in the NIT’s Round of 16 in the Dome on Saturday. The Rebels hit 15 3-pointers, the third most Syracuse has allowed in a game this season, and never trailed in the final 19 minutes. The Orange’s inability to defend led to its NIT entrance and exit.

Syracuse’s season tumbled off the rails in December and never fully worked its way back on track. Despite furious attempts to resuscitate its campaign, the Orange missed out on the NCAA Tournament and the selection committee relegated SU to a postseason event it didn’t want to be in. After winning in the first round on Wednesday night in front of a season-low attendance of 4,288, Syracuse couldn’t pull off one more win to keep its fans content one more time.

“We fight hard, we battle,” Boeheim said. “When our shots aren’t going, we aren’t able to stop the other teams’ shooters.”

It took fewer than two minutes into the second half for Boeheim to call a timeout. Ole Miss knocked down two 3-pointers and after the second, Boeheim asked the ref for the breather. He walked nearly to the “S” on the center of the court to get in Andrew White’s ear, unhappy with the way his team defended the perimeter down by four.

On Ole Miss’ next possession, the Rebels hit its third 3 of the half to take a seven-point lead. Boeheim stood on the sideline with his hands on his hips. Instead of being irate, he was subdued. He could only give so many directions. At some point, his players had to perform.

“We never got out of the mentality that you have in high school where you hope they miss,” Boeheim said. “You have to get up and you have to guard the shooters. We haven’t done that all year.”

Then Taurean Thompson knocked down a jumper, Tyus Battle finished a layup through contact and White finger rolled for two after a Thompson block. It was the Rebels’ turn to take a timeout. Boeheim walked along the sideline and as his players came off the court, he hunched over and clapped.

After a Terence Davis 3-pointer pushed Ole Miss’ lead to six, Battle answered with a 3 of his own. His dad, Gary, stood up and yelled “Let’s go!” as SU trotted back on defense. Battle stole the ball and finished a driving layup while drawing a foul. Syracuse trailed by one with eight minutes to play.

But the Orange’s only season-long constant was its inconsistency. The Rebels made four more 3-pointers, sealing the game and SU’s season.

“This team didn’t match up to the expectations that were set out when the year started,” White said. “And that happens sometimes.”

White and Gillon both knew adjusting to Boeheim’s 2-3 zone was going to be the hardest part after joining Syracuse in the offseason. Boeheim didn’t expect it would take as long as it did. The Orange didn’t get a grasp on the defensive end until halfway through the year. That’s what did SU in and led to the most unexpected part of the season for Gillon.

“I didn’t expect to go to the NIT,” Gillon said.

No one did.

The defense was patched together only temporarily and the problems never fully faded. In the Orange’s first NIT appearance since 2008, nothing changed from the regular season that disappointed SU.

“This game was exactly the same,” Boeheim said.

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