Louisville basketball drops fifth straight with 92-69 loss at Syracuse

Brett Dawson
Louisville Courier Journal
Louisville interim men's basketball coach Mike Pegues gives instructions to his team during a time out against North Carolina at the YUM Center. Feb. 1, 2022

In preparation for Saturday’s game at Syracuse, the Louisville basketball team spent some time probing a zone defense designed to mimic the one Orange coach Jim Boeheim favors. 

The Cardinals scout team threw the zone look at its rotation players. During one drill, a stop meant the scout team could rest. A score meant they’d have to run. 

The rotation guys got the bucket they needed, making the scout team sprint, and it was “just like jubilation in the gym at that point,” interim coach Mike Pegues said Friday. Pegues took it as a good sign, an indication that his team remains engaged even given all the adversity thrown its way. 

But the Cardinals didn’t have much to celebrate Saturday against the genuine article. 

The Syracuse zone stifled Louisville and its offense created even more problems in the Orange’s 92-69 win over the Cards at the Carrier Dome. 

The cold-shooting Cardinals (11-12, 5-8 ACC) lost for the fifth straight time and eighth in the past nine games. Syracuse (12-11, 6-6) won its third straight game. 

More:Why Louisville basketball needs surging scorer El Ellis to get defensive

Louisville is 0-3 under Pegues, who took over after the school reached a separation agreement with coach Chris Mack on Jan. 26. Pegues’ first two games were competitive homecourt losses to Duke and North Carolina. The Cards never posed much threat to the Orange. 

Buddy Boeheim and Jesse Edwards scored 19 points each to lead five Syracuse players in double figures.  Jae’Lyn Withers had 13 points to lead Louisville. Noah Locke added 11 and El Ellis and Samuell Williamson 10 each. 

Three takeaways from the Louisville loss: 

Louisville struggles for stops

Earlier this season, even when shots didn’t drop, Louisville found a way to defend. At the start of the season, the Cardinals were statistically an elite defense, and that was enough to keep them in games. 

But Louisville has lacked consistency in effort and execution at that end for some time. 

According to college basketball analytics site KenPom.com, the Cardinals allow 98.7 points per 100 possessions, which ranks 92nd in Division I. But that number had spiked to 107.9 in conference play entering Saturday’s game. 

"Right now our team isn’t doing a good enough job, it goes without saying, of understanding the significance of getting stops," Pegues said after Saturday's game. "We’re a talented team. We’re not talented enough that we can come out and have a defensive showing like we did pretty much the whole (day)."

Syracuse got off to an impossibly hot start Saturday, making its first eight shots and nine of its first 10. The Orange scored on their first nine possessions before throwing a pass out of bounds for a turnover on their 10th.

Syracuse’s 90 points were the most a team has scored against Louisville this season in a regulation game. The Orange shot 55.2% from the floor. 

Right now our team isn’t doing a good enough job, it goes without saying, of understanding the significance of getting stops. We’re a talented team. We’re not talented enough that we can come out and have a defensive showing like we did pretty much the whole night.

Cardinals have triple trouble

Whoever the next Louisville coach is will badly need to upgrade the shooting on the roster.

That’s been clear all season and was made apparent again as the Cardinals fell behind in the first half Saturday. 

Louisville was 2 for 16 from 3-point range in the first half. Noah Locke and El Ellis, the team’s most dangerous 3-point shooters, were a combined 1 for 8 before halftime. The Cards were 8 for 14 on two-point shots in the first half, including 5 for 6 on layups and dunks. 

But it wasn’t just Louisville’s lack of 3-point threats that caused problems. While the Cardinals made two 3-pointers in the first half, Syracuse had three players — Buddy Boeheim, Joseph Girard III and Cole Swider — who made two or more 3s. The Orange were 6 for 12 from long range before halftime. 

Louisville finished the game 10 of 35 from 3-point range thanks to a second-half flurry, many after the game was decided. Syracuse was 12 of 23. 

Williams sits again

Malik Williams, the Cardinals’ leading scorer and rebounder, missed the second straight game of an indefinite suspension. Pegues had said Friday that Williams would not make the trip to Syracuse. 

The Cardinals fell to 0-3 this season without the 6-foot-11 Williams, losing in both games of his suspension as well as at Western Kentucky when he sat out due to COVID-19 protocols. 

More:Male's Kaleb Glenn on Chris Mack's exit, state of his Louisville basketball commitment

Louisville missed Williams’ size against Syracuse. The Orange scored 36 points in the paint and had six dunks. That came down to more than just size, Pegues said. The Cards could't get into the right positions. 

"I would tell you this: The length is good. Everybody wants length at the rim," Pegues said. "But at the same time, we literally don’t have a body where it needs to be. If there’s a big body — or a body — where we need it, given the ball screen defense, then they don’t get dunks. They don’t get wide-open layups." 

Pegues made it clear when he suspended Williams — who has a meeting scheduled with the coach to talk about a possible return to the team — that it was about more than how the center’s absence would impact the team on the court. 

“I want to finish this season strong with guys that are gonna do things the right way and be easy to coach,” Pegues said at the time. “And I’m gonna do that.”