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Louisville adds to Syracuse’s difficulties


SYRACUSE — Syracuse’s ship is slowly sinking in the Big East Conference. The Orange have nobody to blame but themselves.

For the fourth time this season, and second time this week, Jim Boeheim’s team faded down the stretch of a key conference game, which they had controlled.

After blowing a seven-point lead over the final six minutes Monday at Marquette, late-game turnovers plagued the Orange Saturday, allowing No. 10 Louisville to beat No. 12 SU, 58-53, before 31,173 at the Carrier Dome.

SU (22-7 overall, 10-6 Big East) not only lost its third consecutive game for the first time since a four-game losing streak during the 2010-11 season, it was a second straight disappointing home loss.

The Orange also saw its chances of earning a top-four finish and a bye into the conference postseason tournament quarterfinals diminished. SU is tied for fourth place with Notre Dame (which lost at Marquette Saturday) and Pittsburgh with two games left against DePaul at home Wednesday and at Georgetown Saturday.

But the Orange is also just a game out of eighth place.

“We’ve got to mentally regroup for the final two games, and started playing better,’’ said a subdued Boeheim, whose team was outscored 11-5 in the final three minutes. “I still like this team, and I think we can still be pretty good. If we were getting blown out by 20, I’d be worried. But we’ve been in these last few games against ranked teams right to the end and realistically had a chance to win all three.”

C.J. Fair scored 19 points for SU and James Southerland added 13. But starting guards Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams went a woeful 5-for-21 from the floor, including a 2-for-11 day by Triche, the senior who is suffering through a mesmerizing shooting slump.

In the past 10 games where SU is just 4-6, SU’s scoring leader is 9-for-54 on 3-pointers. He was 0-for-3 Saturday and finished with only five points.

“It’s disappointing, but I’m not down on myself,’’ Triche said. “That would be out of character. I’ve just got to knock down a couple in a row and I’ll be fine.’’

Boeheim suggested Triche “may be trying too hard if anything. The bottom line is we can’t have him shooting like that and turning the ball over for us to win.’’

SU shot just 35.7 percent from the field, and turned the ball over an uncharacteristic 16 times, leading to 20 Cardinal points.

“Turning the ball over at the end is something we haven’t done,’’ Boeheim said. “You can’t give a team as good as Louisville extra chances. And certainly not on simple out of bounds plays on which we gave it up three times.’’

For Louisville (24-5, 12-4), which avenged a two-point loss at home in mid-January, the hero wasn’t one of the Cardinals’ established stars. George Mason junior transfer Luke Hancock, who comes off the bench, scored 12 points and hit three, huge 3-pointers in the final half. He also garnered a key steal of an SU inbounds pass with just over a minute left and the score tied.

“Luke is valuable to us in a lot of ways,’’ Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “He finds ways to get open, and he’s very poised. Today, he won the game for us.’’

Russ Smith scored 18 points to lead the Cardinals, who have won five in a row since a five-overtime loss to Notre Dame on Feb. 9. Center Gorgui Dieng added 11 points and 14 rebounds.

Both teams shot poorly the first half as Louisville clung to a 23-19 lead.

The lead went back-and-forth most of the second half. Southerland, who was 1-for-8 the first half, made three 3-pointers, his last giving SU a 38-36 lead with 9:17 to play.

Hancock then made a three to start a mini-Louisville run, and then another to cap off an 11-2 Cardinals’ spurt, giving them a 47-40 lead.

SU answered with eight straight points. Fair’s scooping drive put the Orange back on top 48-47 at the 2:47 mark, but the Orange failed to score on their next four possessions.

The key giveaway occurred with just under a minute left. Triche was inbounding under his basket when Hancock stepped in front of Carter-Williams for a steal. Following a Louisville timeout, Hancock nailed a huge 3-pointer from the corner.

“We just lost him for a second, which you can’t do at that point,’’ Fair said.

Carter-Williams then misfired on a 3-pointer, and Smith made two free throws to boost the Louisville lead to 53-48 with 35 seconds left.

Triche coughed up the ball on SU’s next possession, and Kevin Ware hit a free throw to all but seal the win

“We’re having trouble finishing games for some reason,’’ Triche said. “Early in the season, that wasn’t a problem.’’

Asked if the Orange were in a desperation mode, Triche said, “No. I don’t think our confidence is shaken because we’re right in these games. We just have to play better when it counts.’’

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