Syracuse University shooting guard Joe Girard III had a quick, three-word response for the team website when asked what to expect for the Atlantic Coast Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament.
The senior from Glens Falls stated with a grin: “Cuse in March. That’s all I’ll say.”
The Orange (17-14 overall) is the eighth seed for the ACC Tournament and will open against the No. 9 Wake Forest Demon Deacons (18-13) at noon Wednesday in the Greensboro Coliseum. The second-round matchup from Greensboro, N.C. will be televised on ESPN.
Girard III gave his answer soon after SU beat visiting Wake Forest, 72-63, in their only prior matchup to end the regular season on Saturday in the JMA Wireless Dome.
Syracuse recovered from a defensive swoon to snap a four-game losing streak and seemingly re-establish its swagger entering the conference tournament. The Orange needs a vintage end-of-season surge to win four games on consecutive days for any chance of reaching the NCAA Tournament.
“The defense held up,” SU coach Jim Boeheim said after Saturday’s win. “You lose four in a row, it’s not that easy to get your confidence back, but we made the plays that we needed to coming down the stretch.”
He later added: “I think they learned something that they have to do tonight (going into the tourney), they were much more active on defense, much better. But we need to be a little bit more efficient.”
Syracuse had fallen off mostly due to poor 3-point defense but seemed to get back on course in the 2-3 zone during the win over Wake Forest.
The Demon Deacons were held to a 10-for-39 mark from deep at a 25 percent clip, SU’s stingiest defensive performance since a Jan. 11 victory over Virginia Tech and its second best 3-point defense against an ACC team all season.
Wake shot just 40 percent overall against SU and entered the matchup leading the conference in total 3-pointers (9.5) and ranking second in 3-point percentage (.371) as the league’s No. 3 scoring offense.
The Orange now aims for a repeat performance on a quick turnaround at a neutral site roughly 30 miles from the Wake Forest campus.
“Our defense was more on top of it, making them move a little bit, not giving them easy looks at it, a little off balance, and you’re going to miss some of those,” Boeheim said.
The Orange had slipped into a funk on the defensive end during its four-game losing streak, all by 17 points or more for the first time in 62 years.
Syracuse allowed 13 or more 3-pointers each in a string of losses to Duke, Clemson, Pittsburgh, and Georgia Tech ahead of the regular-season finale. They allowed a combined 61 makes from deep at a rate of 42.6 percent during the recent skid.
The Orange also allowed three of those four opponents to shoot 50 percent or better from the floor overall, which had only occurred once prior all season.
“I’m disappointed because I thought we were kind of on schedule to be better at the end,” Boeheim said Saturday.
“When you lose two or three like that, then Georgia Tech comes in and starts making shots, you get a little discouraged if you’re young and we got discouraged and didn’t play well,” he added. “This was a good day for this team, we just got to go down to Greensboro and work on our game, see what we can do, you never know.”
Syracuse is aiming to avoid missing back-to-back NCAA tourneys for the first time since 2006 and ‘07 when it played in the NIT both years. The same scenario played out in 1981 and ’82, which is the only other time in 47 seasons under Boeheim that SU went consecutive years without an NCAA tourney bid.
The Orange is also largely off the NIT projections in the week leading into Selection Sunday and hasn’t gone two straight years missing the postseason entirely since 1969 and ‘70.
The SU-Wake winner will advance to face top-seeded Miami (24-6) in the quarterfinals at noon Thursday in the same location. The semifinals will begin at 7 Friday night and the ACC Tournament championship game is slated for 8:30 p.m. on Saturday.
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