Syracuse limps into season finale with 4 losses in 5 games
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) A year ago, Syracuse lost four of its last five games in the regular season, dropped its only game in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, made the NCAA Tournament as a bubble team and went to the Final Four.
The setting is similar this season.
Heading into the regular-season finale at home on Saturday against Georgia Tech (17-13, 8-9 Atlantic Coast Conference), Syracuse (17-13, 9-8 ACC) has lost four of five since reeling off five straight victories to resurrect its season. The Orange, who have won only once on the road this season - in overtime against North Carolina State - need to protect home court. Georgia Tech has split its last six games, has only two road wins and certainly could use another heading into next week's conference tournament in Brooklyn.
Wins by Wake Forest, Northwestern and Illinois on Wednesday night only tightened the logjam of teams on the tournament bubble.
''I believe (with) eight wins in the ACC, how do you not be in the NCAA Tournament?'' Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner said. ''We should automatically be in the NCAA Tournament.''
The Yellow Jackets are coming off a 61-52 win over Pittsburgh, defeated Syracuse 71-65 two weeks ago, and also have wins over North Carolina, Notre Dame and Florida State.
The Orange have wins over three teams that were ranked in the top 10 at the time - Miami, Florida State, and Duke. Consistency has been a problem, though. After beating Miami and Pittsburgh in succession in early January, Syracuse lost three of its next four. The last-second win last week over Duke was followed by a 20-point loss at Louisville. The victory over the Seminoles in late January began that five-game win streak, but that was followed by three straight losses.
''We've had great wins, but the carry-over hasn't been too good,'' Orange coach Jim Boeheim said.
A vastly different lineup from last season has presented its share of challenges. Fifth-year transfers Andrew White and John Gillon had to forget their pasts in adapting to Boeheim's signature 2-3 zone defense, freshman forward Taurean Thompson has shown offensive promise but lacks defensive intensity, freshman guard Tyus Battle has been solid, and sophomore forward Tyler Lydon has had his ups and downs while playing all but one minute of the past 12 games, two of which went into overtime.
''We start four new players and a sophomore. No team in the country has less experience than us,'' said Boeheim, who shortened his bench as the season progressed, relying on White, Gillon, Battle and Lydon to carry most of the load. ''They've gotten better and they've learned.''
All four, led by White (17.1), are averaging in double figures, which make the Orange a team to be reckoned with.
''They have four guys who can really score the ball, four guys who can step out and make plays,'' Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
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