It wasn’t necessarily a must-win, but it clearly was a much-needed win. Thanks to a second-half surge ignited by Brandon Triche’s 13 points after intermission, Syracuse rallied to beat Big East foe West Virginia, 63-52, Monday night in the Carrier Dome and halt – at least temporarily – their 2011 swoon.
Had the Orange men lost, they would have dropped four consecutive home games for the first time since the Kennedy Administration (1962-63 season) and would have added to an ignominious stretch that had seen them lose six of eight heading into the Mountaineers matchup.
Another loss also would have fueled speculation that an 18-0 start might end with an NIT ending.
But with a 21-6 record overall and an 8-6 mark in the most rugged conference in the land, SU appears to be in good shape to receive one of the 68 NCAA tournament bids even if it pulls a one-and-done in the Big East tourney in New York in a few weeks.
Syracuse has four regular-season games remaining – Saturday at home vs. Rutgers; Monday at Villanova; a week from Saturday at Georgetown and a March 4 home finale against DePaul. A split of those contests would make the Orange men 23-8 overall and 10-8 in league play, guaranteeing an invite to the big dance.
But if the Orange men are interested in procuring a decent seed they’re going to have to knock off either 15th-ranked Nova or the 9th-ranked Hoyas. And they’re probably also going to have to make at least a little noise in the Big East tournament.
The play of Triche could be a key component to SU’s success the rest of the way. I always felt the muscular, 6-foot-4 sophomore guard from Jamesville-DeWitt High School is very talented, but there have been too many times when he’s played too tentatively. It’s almost like he’s being too deferential to the upperclassmen.
But in the comeback that fell just short Saturday against Louisville and in this victory against West Virginia, we’ve seen a more assertive Triche. He literally put the team on his back against the Cardinals, scoring 21 points as SU nearly made it all the way out of a 20-point hole. And Monday night he scored 13 of his 20 points in the second half as the Orange men outscored the Mountaineers, 37-22, after intermission.
That steal and coast-to-coast drive by him with just over six minutes remaining was a masterful play that severely stifled West Virginia’s comeback.
If Kris Joseph isn’t going to be the take-charge guy we envisioned him becoming, then it might be time for Triche to assume that role.
The victory was Jim Boeheim’s 850th. Digest that number for a moment. Only four coaches in major college basketball history have more wins than Jimmy B – Bobby Knight (902); Mike Krzyzewski (889); Dean Smith (879) and Adolph Rupp (876). That means in two years, he’ll probably be second only to Coach K. Pretty remarkable when you stop and think about it.