“That’s my defense. It’s on me’

“That’s my defense.  It’s on me’
“That’s my defense.  It’s on me’

Syracuse, NY – Pride goes before fall.

But it wasn’t pride that cost Syracuse against Georgia Tech on Tuesday night. Rather, pride had seemingly left the Orange and it resulted in a 96-76 loss.

“Georgia Tech isn’t going anywhere (and) they played really hard and really well tonight,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “That’s what you’re supposed to do. You go out and play for pride. Your individual pride, your team pride. We’ll let it go tonight. We put down the pride we have in our team tonight.”

Boeheim quickly added that his team never stopped trying.

“I think they tried every play, but we just didn’t execute defensively,” he said. “We didn’t rotate. We didn’t get up to the high post. When we got the ball in the short corner, we let the guy out of the trap. I think we tried, but I just don’t think we executed. That’s the bottom line.”

The 20-point blowout at home marked a season low for Syracuse, which has now lost its last four games by an average of 19.2 points.

“Obviously, you don’t want to play that bad,” Boeheim said. “Our fans have been amazing all year and I’m sad that they have to see that because this is the first time at home that we just haven’t competed defensively.”

In its four-game losing streak, Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense has been held to an average of 90.7 points per game.

“We haven’t been able to stop any four games in a row,” Boeheim said. “And that’s on me. That’s my defense. We’re not going to be able to stop anybody with that. That’s where we are.”

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Boeheim’s search for answers led him to try a full-court press in the first half.

“A mistake,” he said as Georgia Tech treated the press like a skier treats the gates on a downhill run.

In the second half, down by 22 points with 14 minutes remaining, Boeheim switched from the familiar 2-3 zone to a man-to-man defense.

After stating frequently in the preseason that the Orange wanted to play more man-to-man, Boeheim had shelved that idea just two games into the season.

As recently as last Saturday’s loss in Pittsburgh, Boeheim had said the Orange couldn’t play man-to-man.

In a way he was right. It didn’t matter what type of defense Syracuse played; or did not play, against Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets set a school record with 18 made 3-pointers in 40 attempts.

“We played this team in Atlanta,” Boeheim said, referring to SU’s 80-63 win over Georgia Tech on Jan. 21. “They’re a good team. They were pretty good then. They’re a little better now. They’re playing better. But when we played them in Atlanta, our defense was just better. We moved better.

“Our defense has gradually deteriorated.”

Much worse.

In its last three games against Clemson, Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech, Syracuse has allowed 91, 99 and 96 points, respectively.

It’s the first time Syracuse has given up 90 or more points in three straight losses in program history.

Boeheim said he didn’t know why his team had gotten worse defensively the past two weeks.

“I don’t have an answer as to why we’re not playing better now,” Boeheim said. “I really don’t. Again, that’s up to me. I don’t get them to play well enough defensively. That’s the bottom line.”

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While the margins were ugly, losses to Duke and on the roads at Clemson and Pittsburgh were hardly surprising. But the 20-point loss to a Georgia Tech team that hadn’t won an ACC game all year seemed like rock bottom.

“The Duke game, they’re better than us,” Boeheim said. “At Clemson, they beat everybody. And Pittsburgh, they’re good. This game? There’s just no excuse for not being able to play better defense.”

While Boeheim questioned whether his team had lost pride, he insisted the players were still trying.

Syracuse’s record is now 16-14 for the season with one regular game remaining. The Orange will host Wake Forest on Saturday in a virtually meaningless game.

“The reality is we’re not going anywhere unless we win the (ACC) tournament, which is obviously very unlikely the way we’re playing,” Boeheim said. “This game, as much as you want to win it, doesn’t change anything. We’ve got to go there (Greensboro) and win it to go to the (NCAA) tournament.”

And instead of playing for an NCAA bid, it’s a matter of pride.

“Pride,” Boeheim said. “We play for pride. We are getting ready to play.”

Syracuse.com will debut a documentary film about Syracuse basketball’s 2003 NCAA championship team on March 29 at the Landmark Theatre. Tickets are on sale now. For more information, click here.

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