Capitals

Syracuse proves it can win the close ones, too

201301191602577755539-p2.jpeg

Syracuse proves it can win the close ones, too

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has to be impressed with his third-ranked Orange, no matter what he says in the heat of the moment.

After two, gritty two-point wins in a three-day span - at then-No. 1 Louisville on Saturday and at home on Monday against No. 21 Cincinnati - Syracuse sits alone atop the Big East standings.

The Orange have only lost once in 29 conference regular-season games in the past calendar year and have beaten their opponents this season by an average of 19.2 points. Winning two close games in a row is a good sign for a team that hasn't been tested too much.

Aside from a four-point loss to Temple at Madison Square Garden just before Christmas, Detroit gave Syracuse its biggest scare the night Boeheim won his 900th game. The Titans rallied from 20 points down in the final minutes before the Orange escaped with a 72-68 win, thanks in large part to 22 points from sharpshooting senior forward James Southerland.

``These guys have made plays in the games we've had, and even the game we lost,'' Boeheim said after Syracuse's 57-55 comeback win over the Bearcats on Monday. ``They fight it, and when we're not playing well they keep fighting it. If they weren't battlers, we easily could've had two, maybe three losses in the conference.''

Instead, at 6-0, the Orange are the only team in the Big East with an unblemished record in league play, and they've won the past three games without their steadiest outside shooter.

Southerland, second on the team in scoring at 13.6 points and the team leader with 33 makes from behind the arc, was declared out indefinitely because of an eligibility matter involving academics that has yet to be resolved.

Southerland is still practicing with the team and has been on the bench in street clothes at the last two home games, flashing an occasional smile amid all the frustration he's most certainly feeling.

In his absence, freshman Jerami Grant has stepped in and played well, averaging 9.3 points and 5.6 rebounds while blocking four shots in the three games. He was instrumental in a 72-61 home win over Villanova 11 days ago in his first extended action of the season, scoring a season-high 13.

Still, Boeheim was quick to point out that both Grant and redshirt freshman Trevor Cooney had defensive lapses against Cincinnati. Sean Kilpatrick was left open too many times and hit six 3-pointers as the Bearcats nearly had the upset.

``We can't afford that,'' Boeheim said. ``You can't leave a guy like that open.''

Syracuse beat Louisville by snagging three turnovers in the final seconds, the last two forced by point guard Michael Carter-Williams. He intercepted a pass at the top of the key with the game tied at 68-all and scored the winning basket on a breakaway slam dunk with 23 seconds left, then stole the ball again under the Orange basket as the Cardinals were vying for the tie. C.J. Fair was credited with the winning tip-in against Cincinnati with 19.4 seconds left in regulation after Grant failed to convert a drive through the lane.

Small wonder that both Louisville coach Rick Pitino and Cincinnati's Mick Cronin were dumbstruck, as was Boeheim.

``Without those two things happening, we're 0-2 and everybody is going, `Syracuse is in trouble,' because we should've lost both those games,'' Boeheim said. ``That's why Rick (Pitino) was so upset. There was no way on earth that Louisville should've lost that game ... and there was less of a chance for Cincinnati to lose. The game was completely over.''

Not until the final horn. Not with Carter-Williams and fellow guard Brandon Triche, the Orange's leading scorer, running the floor.

``Our guards have got to play great,'' Boeheim said. ``That's the bottom line with this team.''

That's a given, and they've responded. Triche had 23 points and six rebounds against Louisville, while Carter-Williams had 16 points and seven assists in each of the past two games, more than making up for 11 turnovers. Both hit key shots late in each game.

``You don't want to have confidence that you're going to be down and come back. That's not good confidence,'' said Triche, who had to sit much of the second half against Villanova because of foul trouble. ``The confidence is that we're going to stick it out, we're not going to get down on each other. We're just going to play for each other.

``These last three wins were great team wins and shows what type of team we are.''

Quick Links

John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

After losing Game 1 and Game 2 at home, Alex Ovechkin declared "It’s going to be fun when we bounce back and going to tie the series and come back here and play Game 5 at home.”

Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella seems to be taking a similar tactic.

The Capitals won Game 5 in overtime on Saturday in a game that could prove to be emotionally draining for the Blue Jackets in a number of ways.

  • It was Washington's third straight win
  • Columbus was the better team for the majority of the game, but still took the loss
  • The Blue Jackets now face elimination despite holding a 2-0 series lead to start and losing only once in regulation

Tortorella has become famous for his fiery postgame press conferences in the past, including abruptly walking out after Game 4's presser when he declared "We sucked" to the media.

Saturday's was another fun one.

In a presser that lasted less than two minutes, Tortorella twice said, "We'll be back here for Game 7."

After such a draining game, Tortorella was asked how he would get them ready for what is sure to be an emotionally charged Game 6.

"I won't have to say a damn word to them," Tortorella said. "No. We'll be back here for Game 7."

The Blue Jackets will have to win Game 6 in Columbus to make that happen.

Barry Trotz was asked for his reaction after Tortorella's comments.

"What else are you going to say? That's good. He wants to get it out there, he believes in his team just as I believe in my team. It's our job for that not to happen."

RELATED LINKS:

Quick Links

4 reasons the Caps beat the Blue Jackets in Game 5

4 reasons the Caps beat the Blue Jackets in Game 5

The Columbus Blue Jackets were the better team for large stretches of Game 5, but they ultimately weren't good enough. The Washington Capitals defended home ice for the first time this series and escaped with a 4-3 overtime win to take a 3-2 series lead and push the Blue Jackets to the brink.

Here's how Washington won Game 5.

A fluke bounce off of Sergei Bobrovsky’s back

Much was made coming into Game 5 of the fact that the road team had won every game to this point in the series. After winning two straight, it was imperative that for the Caps to come in and take advantage of the home crowd. But Columbus was the better team to start and scored a shorthanded tally for the game’s first goal. There was not much to like about the start…until a fluke bounce tied the game at one. Nicklas Backstrom had the puck behind the goal line and tried to feed it in front. Bobrovsky stuck his stick out to block the pass, but the puck had so much spin on it, it bounced up and off the netminder’s back into the net. A bad start ended up not costing Washington as the score was tied at 1 after the first.

The penalty kill

In the first two games of the series, the Caps gave up four power play goals on eight opportunities. Since then, Washington's PK has been lights out. The Caps gave up five power plays to Columbus in a penalty-filled contest, but killed off all five of them. Washington has not allowed a power play goal since Game 2, killing off 13 straight opportunities in the process.

A critical save by Braden Holtby

The Caps looked like they were out of gas in the third period. They held a 3-2 lead at the start, but yielded the game-tying goal to Oliver Bjorkstrand just 2:30 in and had to survive just to reach overtime. They were outshot 16-1 during that period. Luckily for them, Holtby was on point. All 15 saves Holtby made that period were critical, but none was better than highway robbery he committed on Pierre-Luc Dubois.

Considering how gassed the Caps looked that period, that goal would have been tough to come back from.

Nicklas Backstrom

There was no question who the player of the game was in this one. Backstrom scored the Caps' first goal off the back of Bobrovsky, then deflected in the overtime winner for his second goal of the game. But it goes beyond what he did on the ice. After the game, Barry Trotz said some of the team leaders stepped up in the locker room in between the third period and overtime. He would not name names, but did confirm Backstrom was one of those who spoke out.

RELATED: 3 STARS OF THE GAME