One less turnover at a key moment.
To hear the Syracuse University men's basketball players and coaches talk, that's all it'll take to turn around their late-season slide.
It's March, so they better be right.
If not, the Orange faces abbreviated appearances in the Big East Conference and NCAA tournaments.
"It's better to go through these games now," SU senior James Southerland said. "Luckily for us, we're able to have better competition in our league so that way when we play in the (NCAA) Tournament, we're used to situations like this."
Well, not quite like this. In losing three consecutive games to Georgetown, Marquette and Louisville, the Orange has its first three-game losing streak overall and its first two-game losing streak at the Carrier Dome since January 2011. Before losing its last two games to Georgetown and Louisville at the Dome, the Orange had won a Dome-record 38 consecutive home games.
And while outside shooting has been a season-long concern, the Orange added turnovers to the mix in the 58-53 loss to Louisville on Saturday, March 2. SU committed 16 turnovers, including a careerhigh seven by senior guard Brandon Triche, and the Cardinals scored 16 points off of those turnovers.
The Orange led 48-47 with 2:52 left, but Triche committed three turnovers over the next two minutes as the Cardinals grabbed the lead and kept it.
"We just have to finish games," said Triche, who made just two of his 11 shots Saturday. "A lot of it is on me. I just need to take care of the ball and make all the right plays. We were doing that early. That's why we were winning games, but now we're not."
The Orange, which set a Dome low with 46 points against Georgetown and its 2-3 zone defense Feb. 23, didn't do much better against Louisville and its matchup 2-3 zone defense, which is a mix of man and zone. SU shot 36 percent (20for-56) against the Cardinals, including 39 percent (5-for-13) from 3-point range thanks to Southerland's 3-for-5 effort from behind the arc.
Since Syracuse is getting so little production from centers Rakeem Christmas, Baye Moussa Keita and DaJuan Coleman (who returned Saturday after missing eight games while recovering from knee surgery), the Orange needs guards Triche and Michael Carter-Williams to score. So it's not a coincidence that in SU's six Big East losses (in the last 10 games), Triche and Carter-Williams are shooting a combined 31 percent (48-for-153) and 16 percent (9-for-57) from 3-point range.
"We've lost three straight games to zone defenses, so I would imagine we're going to see more of that," SU coach Jim Boeheim said. "It's always tough to be zoned when you don't make shots."
Boeheim suggested that his players in general - and Triche and Carter-Williams in particular - were "trying too hard" to make plays that would end the losing streak, and they ended up making costly mistakes, instead.
"Brandon, if anything, he tries too hard to get something done. He doesn't play well when he tries hard," Boeheim said. "We're not going to win when he's 2-for-11 and seven turnovers. We need him to be better than that. He's a four-year player and he's a good player.
"He can have an occasional bad game. (Louisville guard) Peyton Siva was 0-for-9 (Saturday). So you can have a bad game, but Siva didn't turn it over," Boeheim continued. "You can't miss shots and turn it over. That's not a good combination, and he (Triche) made a couple of bad defensive plays, as well. He's trying, and we've won 22 games with him and we're going to try to win a couple more."
To that end, Boeheim said the Orange (22-7, 10-6 in the Big East) is close to turning it around, and the players say they haven't lost their confidence. After all, it's not like SU lost to Wagner, Princeton and Colgate; Georgetown, Marquette and Louisville are all nationally ranked and they have clinched byes into the quarterfinal round of the Big East Tournament.
"I like what we can be," Boeheim said.
"We've lost to three ranked teams, and we haven't played very good. We haven't shot very well, and we could have won two of the three. If we were getting beat by 15 or 20 points I would be worried and upset, but we're right there."
While Triche said the Orange is "almost in desperation mode," he and Carter-Williams said the players still believe they can win the Big East Tournament and make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
"I believe in us. I believe we can play well when we play our game," Carter-Williams said. "I think we can beat anybody. All these games were close that we lost, and we just need to be more productive down the stretch. We are a very good team when we play our game and play smart."
With two regular-season games remaining - against DePaul at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 6 at the Carrier Dome and at Georgetown Saturday, March 9 - the Orange is tied with Notre Dame and Pittsburgh for fourth place in the Big East. The top four teams receive double byes in the Big East Tournament, so the Orange has time to turn it around and position itself for the postseason.
"The season's not over because we lost three in a row," SU's C.J. Fair said. "Lucky for us, it's not the tournament where you're one and done. We have to finish these last two games off strong and make a run for the Big East title and NCAA."
ORANGE SLICES: Wednesday's game against DePaul is the final Big East game at the Carrier Dome for SU, which is moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference next season. It's also the final home game for seniors Triche, a Jamesville-DeWitt High School product, and Southerland.
"It's going to be great. There's going to be a lot of emotion," Southerland said. "Me and Brandon, we're going to try our best to perform in our last game at the Carrier Dome. We have a lot of good memories, but it seems like it went by real quick."
- Matt Michael
Here Comes the ACC
Last week was a historic one for the Syracuse University athletics department, which announced its first Atlantic Coast Conference football schedule.
Syracuse's inaugural ACC season will include home games against Clemson (Oct. 5), Wake Forest (Nov. 2), Pittsburgh (Nov. 23) and Boston College (Nov. 30), and visits to North Carolina State (Oct. 12), Georgia Tech (Oct. 19), Maryland (Nov. 9) and Florida State (Nov. 16).
The Orange kicks off the 2013 season against Penn State in New York's College Classic on Aug. 31 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. Syracuse's non-conference schedule also includes a road game at Northwestern (Sept. 7) and home games against Wagner (Sept. 14) and Tulane (Sept. 21).
"We look forward to opening our ACC schedule with Clemson in the Carrier Dome," new Orange head coach Scott Shafer said. "Our fans will enjoy the months of October and November with games against some of the best programs in the ACC, including closing out the schedule with traditional rivals in Pittsburgh and Boston College in the Dome."
The Orange starts spring practice March 19 and will host the annual Spring Game April 20 at the Carrier Dome.
Syracuse fans can renew or reserve 2013 season tickets starting at $99 by visiting SUAthletics.com, calling 888-DOMETIX, or visiting the Carrier Dome Box Office at Gate B.
The College Classic game against Penn State is the first in a three-game series that also includes a game at the Carrier Dome and a game at Penn State. For tickets to this year's game in New Jersey, visit NYCollege Classic.com or call 888-DOMETIX.
- Matt Michael