SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP)—Louisville is still waiting for a Big East challenge it can’t handle.
Not even 25,721 screaming Syracuse fans or Eric Devendorf’s clutch 3-pointer could derail the Cardinals on Sunday. Earl Clark silenced the raucous Carrier Dome crowd with a 3 from right wing with 2:06 remaining and No. 9 Louisville held off No.8 Syracuse 67-57 to remain unbeaten in the conference.
“We just had to dig down and play great defense,” said Clark, who finished with 16 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. “They have five guys who average double figures. When Devendorf hit the big shot, we didn’t hang our heads. We came together as a team.”
It was the seventh straight win for Louisville (15-3, 6-0 Big East), which handed Pittsburgh its first loss of the season, 69-63, eight days ago. Syracuse (17-4, 5-3) lost its second straight—the Orange fell 78-60 at No. 4 Pitt on Monday—since a 93-74 home win over Notre Dame.
“The 3 was the key play of the game,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said after a lengthy postgame locker room talk to his team. “Neither team was making anything. It came down to that play.”
And several others.
After Devendorf’s shot gave Syracuse a 55-54 lead with 2:55 left, Clark put the Cardinals ahead to stay as the Orange misfired repeatedly. Syracuse, averaging 80.4 points a game, had only two field goals in the last seven minutes in being held to a season-low in points.
“When we got down, we didn’t panic. We’re a veteran team,” Terrence Williams said. “We’ve been in that position before. We just had to go from there, come down, and be patient on offense.”
Williams had 15 points and nine rebounds and Edgar Sosa finished with 13 points for Louisville.
Devendorf led the Orange with 20 points, Jonny Flynn had 12 points, and Arinze Onuaku had 11 points and nine rebounds. Paul Harris had his second straight subpar game, finishing with just six points on 2-of-7 shooting. He was averaging 13.6 points.
Andy Rautins, the Orange’s top outside threat, twisted his right ankle in front of the Syracuse bench and limped off the court with 7:17 left in the game and the Orange trailing 54-48. He did not return, finishing with just three points.
Clark followed his critical 3 with two free throws and Williams hit a jumper from left wing as the shot clock was about to expire to boost the lead to 61-55 with 50 seconds left. Sosa and Samardo Samuels each sank a pair of free throws in the final seconds to secure the triumph.
“This was real important,” said Clark, who committed seven of Louisville’s 10 turnovers. “Everybody was telling us how tough it is to play in here. When we walked in and saw how many people there were, it was just great. It’s great to get a win anyplace.”
Syracuse entered the game leading the Big East in shooting at 50 percent and had little trouble coping with the Louisville press. But the Orange finished 18-for-51 (35.3 percent) from the floor, their lowest shooting percentage of the year, including a woeful 6-for-22 (27.3 percent) in the second half.
The Orange also never got its uptempo attack going consistently and scored just 13 fast-break points as the Cardinals won the battle on the offensive glass 21-13.
“We felt that was a major key to keep them off the break,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “The key is not getting back and talking. The key is getting second shots.”
Still, Syracuse had plenty of opportunities to score in the final two minutes, but with 6-foot-9 Terrence Jennings helping clog the lane, Flynn missed three times on drives to the basket and Devendorf misfired once.
“When you’re down, you have to try to force things,” said Flynn, who is 6-for-26 from the floor in the past two games. “You can’t let the game come to you. It was a little bit of everything today.”
Louisville led 38-33 at halftime, and the lead could have been greater. The Cardinals, who missed four shots in a final flurry under the basket right before the buzzer, scored only six second-chance points in the period despite outrebounding Syracuse 14-7 on the offensive glass and 25-14 overall.
“You realize you’re going to be in so many close games, so you just say, ‘OK, here we go again,”’ Pitino said. “We understand.”