The Associated Press
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Kyle Kuric scored 23 points, Preston Knowles added 22 and Peyton Siva dropped in the clinching free throws in the final moments to lead No. 16 Louisville past slumping No. 12 Syracuse 73-69 on Saturday.
The Cardinals (19-6, 8-4 Big East) continued their mastery of the Orange (20-6, 7-6) behind some hot 3-point shooting and just enough defense to beat Syracuse for the seventh consecutive time.
Brandon Triche led the Orange with a season-high 21 points and Scoop Jardine had 20 points and four assists but Syracuse couldn’t quite erase a 20-point second-half deficit to lose for the sixth time in its last eight games.
The Orange pulled within three points twice in the final 2:10 but Louisville survived thanks to clutch free throws from Siva and Chris Smith.
Louisville was 13 of 27 from 3-point range to overcome Syracuse’s distinct size advantage and shoot its way over the Orange’s trademark 2-3 zone defense.
Coach Rick Pitino worried his team was on the verge of collapse after squeaking by with a patchwork lineup in recent weeks.
The Cardinals are as healthy as they have been all season after the return of power forward Rakeem Buckles, who missed six weeks with a broken left index finger. His return gave Louisville’s frontline a much-needed boost following a draining overtime loss at No. 8 Notre Dame on Thursday.
While Buckles was hardly spectacular, turning it over five times in 14 minutes, he didn’t have to be. He left that up to Kuric and Knowles.
Knocking down shots from all over the court, the duo helped Louisville build a 57-37 lead with 15:23 remaining.
Syracuse, however, dug in behind Triche. The Orange ripped off eight consecutive points in the next 90 seconds to get back in it then slowly chiseled away as Louisville went cold and struggled to find any momentum in the halfcourt.
The Orange went on a 20-5 burst over a 9-minute stretch, pulling within 69-66 on a layup by Triche. Louisville managed to steady itself in the face of Syracuse’s halfcourt trapping, eventually drawing enough fouls to get to the line.
Smith hit two free throws with 28 seconds remaining to put the Cardinals up 71-66. Triche took a deep 3-pointer from the top of the key that banked off the backboard then rolled around the rim before falling out. Siva made a free throw to push the lead to six before Jardine hit a 3 to get the Orange within 72-69.
Siva made one more at the line with 6 seconds left then collected a loose ball at halfcourt to help the Cardinals hold on.
The game looked oddly similar to several during this bizarre late-season stumble by the Orange. Louisville picked apart Syracuse’s zone for easy baskets – finishing with 20 assists on 26 field goals – and there was a lack of urgency by the Orange until they were down a dozen.
Maybe it will help the Orange if they don’t come the Louisville on a day of celebration. The Cardinals knocked off Syracuse last March in the final game at Freedom Hall.
On Saturday, the school honored the 1986 national championship team, and between roars for former coach Denny Crum and several players on that squad, the current group of Cardinals proved the present is pretty bright too.
Syracuse controlled things early before Louisville came to life late in the first half, roaring past the Orange in the final 5:40 with a blistering 21-4 burst.
Jennings got the Cardinals rolling with two putbacks before Knowles got loose. He knocked down three 3-pointers during the run, including a 27-footer just before the horn that put Louisville up 40-30.