To the non-observer Syracuse 57, UC 55 will read as a win for the Orange and loss for the Bearcats. Those who focus on wins and losses in January are judging a book by an excerpt rather than reading the chapters.
The sting of knowing how a victory against No. 3 Syracuse narrowly slipped out of the Bearcats fingertips doesn't fade easily. It won't for these players and won't for a coach who would have loved that signature win topping his resume in middle March. Once the pain wears off and dissection of final possession strategy dies down, the true colors of what occurred Monday at the Carrier Dome emerge.
Nobody pushes Syracuse to the brink at the Carrier Dome. It doesn't happen. There's a reason they have now won 35 in a row in the building. They certainly don't have Jim Boeheim saying, "we were done," as he did after this one.
Of their 13 games this season at the Dome, only one was within single digits. That was a game against Detroit (72-68) where the Cuse led by 17 with less than five minutes remaining. Even dating back to last season, of their perfect home record only three games were closer than seven points at home.
Over the course of Syracuse's streak, the longest in the nation dating back to February 2011, here are the closest margins of victory:
- Jan. 21, 2013 vs. No. 21 UC: 57-55
- Jan. 28, 2012 vs. WVU: 63-61
- Feb. 8, 2012 vs. No. 11 Georgetown: 64-61 (OT)
- Feb. 19, 2011 vs. Rutgers: 84-80 (OT)
- Dec. 2, 2011 vs. No. 9 Florida: 72-68
- Dec. 17, 2012 vs. Detroit: 72-68
- Dec. 6, 2011 vs. Marshall: 62-56
That's only three previous times in conference play at home over the the last two-plus years have the Orange even been challenged to within six points.
Remember, this is the same team to go on the road two days prior and beat the then-No. 1 team in the country, Louisville. Oh, by the way, in very similar circumstances to Monday's UC loss. The Cardinals led with less than a minute left and holding the ball, they also held the lead the vast majority of the final 10 minutes.
Is anybody worried about Louisville?
Nobody should be worried about UC. This is a team that's 16-4 and 4-3 in the Big East. Their four losses have come by a combined 10 points. Only against Notre Dame did they not have a shot at the buzzer to win it. No matter the opponent, no matter the venue, they've proven capable of beating anybody.
This effort came on a day a tired Cashmere Wright, who hadn't practiced in nearly a week, played his first game off a sprained knee and struggled because of it. When your best player has a bad day, you aren't supposed to have the Orange down for the count in the Dome.
While everyone will remember the final shot from Wright falling in and rimming out, that shouldn't overshadow the huge shots made by Sean Kilpatrick from deep or great passes from Titus Rubles working from the elbow to register five assists, five points and five offensive rebounds. They should remember a team that held Syracuse off the glass to an unprecedented level this year. The Orange came in top five in the country in offensive rebounding percentage, grabbing 46 percent of their misses. UC held them just six offensive boards for 22.2 percent.
A Syracuse defense in the top 15 nationally in forcing turnovers only caused nine against the Bearcats and minimal patented runouts.
This team soaked in halftime adjustments and executed them perfectly against one of the most confounding defenses around.
UC lives beyond the point of moral victories, but it shouldn't live beyond the point of reality. Enough positive developments happened Monday -- and really every time out during the four games in 10 days run -- to be encouraged about the direction of this team as it enters a stretch of the season where they improved dramatically each of the last two years.
The next five games come against teams with a combined 11-17 conference record right now and none are above .500.
A win against Syracuse would have allowed the team to bask in national headlines and earn an advantage in the race for the Big East tournament seeds or even regular season championship. As Cronin said when I asked him about what beating Marquette without Wright meant on Saturday, the same applies to losing in heartbreaking fashion at Syracuse on Monday.
"Ultimately, it is the next game on the schedule," Cronin said Saturday. "Winning builds belief in your system and the things you try to preach to your team. It builds credibility with what you are trying to preach in the locker room. But it's just one win. At the end of the day, it's one loss for Marquette and one win for us. We have 12 left and try to win as many as you can. It is a three-part season. You go to New York and try to win that thing, and hopefully you are healthy for the NCAA tournament. I hear what you guys say, that this is a big win, but it's one game."
I want to hear from you. Send me any comments, questions or what you think Monday at Syracuse meant for UC. Send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.