All seemed well on the Syracuse University campus as the calendar year changed from 2010 to 2011. The football team figured out how to get to and win a bowl game, and the men’s basketball team entered Jan. 17 at 18-0 and ranked third in the polls. Jan. 17 is the day the spiral began. It would take 16 day, four loses and speculation of point shaving.
In the midst of the four-game skid, the Orange was squeezed in a 22-point home loss to Seton Hall. They coughed up the first 19 points in a tough game on the road in Pittsburgh without leading scorer Kris Joseph. Villanova dominated start-to-finish and, in Marquette, the Orange tried to overcome another first-half slump but fell short in a six-point loss.
Fans and experts tried to figure out these struggles and answers were pieced together here and there. Then the point shaving rumors started. The guy who initiated the accusation did so in a forum on a betting website and later apologized in an anonymous statement, calling the accusations "anything but insider information."
The struggles are easy to see even to a blind eye. The patented Jim Boeheim 2-3 zone had more holes than Swiss cheese. Pittsburgh picked apart the inside of the zone from the start and knocked down every look from the outside. Seton Hall punished Syracuse on the glass and Jeremy Hazell hit shots that even LeBron James might not even knock down. Villanova found points early and often as they really left the Orange with nothing more than a glimmer or two of hope. Marquette rushed out to a comfortable first-half lead and knocked a few tough shots down late to hold off a furious Syracuse rush.
With a four-game losing streak the Orange looked on their schedule and No. 6 UConn was looking back. The Orange went on the road and looked to snap not only a four-game losing streak, but they hadn’t won in Storrs or Hartford in seven tries. UConn continued to expose the Orange in the opening minutes, but the Orange found their feet and took a slim one-point lead into the locker room and wouldn’t trail again.
The Orange offense continued to be anything but average. The Orange shot a mere 38 percent from the field and 26 percent from behind the arc. The Orange bench production came alive though as Dion Waiters, Baye Moussa Keita and C. J. Fair combined for 19 points, 19 rebounds and 10 steals. The 2-3 zone looked vintage once again as they shut down UConn’s premier player Kemba Walker, holding him to just eight points on 3-of-14 shooting. Walker’s last point came on a free throw with 12:55 remaining.
With eight games remaining, the Orange enter another tough stretch with a 6-4 (19-4 overall) record in the conference. The Orange head to South Florida on Saturday and return home Wednesday against a pesky Georgetown team. The win at UConn could be a step in righting the ship or it could just be a false sense of hope with the final sinking yet to come. In either case, the Orange faithful look for a reason to believe, and a win never hurt a true believer.