Syracuse begins final Garden run with win

NEW YORK -- This tournament has barely begun, but emotions are already running high.

After Syracuse’s 75-63 win over Seton Hall on Wednesday afternoon -- just the fourth game of a five-day event -- Jim Boeheim took nearly four minutes to answer what was, on the surface, a very simple question:

“Was there any different feeling for you walking into the building this morning?”

“Yeah, there was,” the Syracuse coach began. “In the locker room before the game, I was thinking about all the times coming here. I first came to the Garden when I was a sophomore in college -- the old, old Garden. Seems like about 50 years ago. Oh -- it was 50 years ago.”

That elicited chuckles in the packed interview room here at Madison Square Garden. But the room quickly fell silent again, as the Hall of Famer rambled on about the history of the Big East and his own career.

“Your whole life has been spent in this league, and the last 31 years coming to this building, that’s a lot. That’s a lot of memories, a lot of time.”

Syracuse, one of the seven charter members of the Big East back in 1979, departs for the Atlantic Coast Conference after this season. The conference as a whole is splintering, with the seven Catholic basketball-only schools departing to form a new league.

But Boeheim and his Orange will play at least one more game here, after wearing out the undermanned Pirates.

Seton Hall actually had a 10-point lead midway through the first half, after connecting on six of its first seven 3-point attempts. But James Southerland (20 points) enabled Syracuse to tie the game by intermission, making six treys of his own, five in the first 20 minutes.

Brandon Triche (17 points) and C.J. Fair (16 points, 8 rebounds) pushed the Orange over the hump in the second half. And the orchestrator throughout was sophomore point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who tied a Big East tournament record with 14 assists.

“Our offensive movement was the best it’s been probably all year,” Boeheim said. “Mike played, I think, his best game of the year.”

Syracuse (24-8, 11-7), which lost four of five to end the regular season, is looking to right the ship here in New York before next week’s NCAA tournament. And Triche, who had been mired in a shooting slump, shot 6-for-9 on Wednesday, including a key 3-pointer in the second half.

The normally stoic Triche screamed and pumped his fist after that shot went down. “I haven’t made a 3-pointer in like a month,” Triche said. “So I figured I’d celebrate a bit.”

The Orange, the No. 5 seed, next face No. 4 seed Pittsburgh on Thursday afternoon. Pitt beat Syracuse on its home floor 65-55 back on Feb. 2, but Southerland was suspended for that game.

There were plenty of emotions on the Seton Hall side, too. The Pirates (15-18, 3-15) wrapped up a very difficult season, one marred by injuries up and down the roster.

Coach Kevin Willard essentially relied on just five players Wednesday, with his starters playing 182 of a possible 200 minutes. The Pirates hung tough -- the game was still tied with less than 13 minutes remaining -- before simply running out of gas.

“They played the same way they played all year,” Willard said. “They played with a lot of heart, a lot of pride.”

Sophomore guard Aaron Cosby scored a game-high 22 points. And the Pirates shot 10-for-20 from beyond the arc, including three treys from fifth-year senior Kyle Smyth.

Smyth broke down in tears when removed from the game in the final minutes, and was still choked up and red-eyed when facing the media.

“I think any collegiate athlete, when it comes to the end, it’s very emotional,” Smyth said. “Just all the emotions you run through five years in your head, everything that went on.”

Willard said he usually doesn’t get emotional at the end of a season. “But this one hurts because it was such a frustrating year,” Willard said. “I think I kind of knew how we could have been all year if we’d been healthy, and I feel bad for these guys because they really had to deal with a lot of negativity and a lot of frustration.

“So just proud of them. I really am. I hate losing, but I love these guys.”

The 34th Big East tournament -- the 31st at the Garden, and the last of its kind -- rolls on, with two more second-round games Wednesday night, and seven more games over the next three days.

But the goodbyes have already begun.

Last call is the championship game, Saturday night -- a game Syracuse has played in 14 times. "I remember every one of them like yesterday," Boeheim said.

The Orange have won five of them, and lost nine. But the legendary coach cherishes every single one of them.

“The heartbreaks are what make the good ones so great. You have to have them both,” Boeheim said. “I can’t really describe it accurately. It’s just -- it's my whole life.”