LOUISVILLE — No sugar-coating a one-point loss against the No. 2-ranked team in the country.
"What it comes down to, very simple: We didn't make free throws," Louisville Coach Rick Pitino said after his 19th-ranked Cardinals were edged 52-51 by Syracuse in Monday's Big East matchup. "And that's what's so bothersome to me. Not that we lost to a good basketball team, but 12-for-21 for the amount of time we spend on it is inexcusable."
The Orange spoiled "White Out" in the KFC Yum Center, with most in the crowd of 22,738 wearing in white. Pitino got in on the act with an all-white suit.
Syracuse (26-1, 13-1 Big East) won its sixth game in a row and snapped a seven-game losing streak in the series. The Orange beat Louisville for the first time since a 79-66 decision in 2006.
"It was an unbelievable defensive struggle tonight," Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim said. "Both teams have difficult defenses to play against. ... You can either give the defenses credit or say it was a bad offensive game. We're going to look on the bright side and say it was a real defensive struggle."
A clash of zone defenses resulted in Syracuse shooting 21-for-61 (34.4 percent), including a season-low one three-pointer in 15 tries (6.7 percent). U of L shot 17-for-49 (34.7 percent), 5-for-19 (26.3 percent) from long range.
The Cardinals (20-6, 8-5) had a six-game winning streak stopped. However, they still lead the rivalry 13-5. The teams will meet again March 3 at Syracuse.
Neither team scored in the last 2:11, when C.J. Fair's bucket capped a 6-0 Syracuse rally.
U of L scored its final points on a Chane Behanan put-back with 3:40 left to take a 51-46 lead.
The Cards shot 0-for-3 the rest of the game, turned the ball over twice and mishandled a last chance to shoot.
After an Orange timeout with 39.2 seconds left, Dion Waiters drove and missed.
Kyle Kuric got the rebound, giving U of L a chance for the last shot.
With the clock winding under five seconds, Peyton Siva penetrated and tried to dish to 6-foot-11 Gorgui Dieng.
Waiters was there to intercept, though, and was fouled with 1.7 seconds left.
Waiters missed the free throw, and Dieng rebounded, calling time at :1.1.
Needing to go the length of the court, Behanan passed to Angel Nunez at midcourt, but the freshman fumbled the ball as time ran out.
Fair led Syracuse with 13 points and five rebounds. Fab Melo scored 11 and Kris Joseph had seven, with each grabbing six rebounds.
Behanan, going 7-for-8 from the field, finished with 16 points and nine rebounds, including six on the offensive end. He also had an assist and two steals, with no turnovers.
"It hurts," Behanan said. "I just feel sorry because we worked so hard this whole week for this game, preparing for this game, and just a couple missed assignments at the end."
Chris Smith added 10 points. Dieng had nine points, 10 rebounds, three steals and four blocks, but also had five of Louisville's 16 turnovers.
"It was a defensive battle, and they came up with the plays at the end," Pitino said. "I'm very, very disappointed that we lost the game. ... We made some very bad mental plays and took ourselves out of the dribble-penetration. We've handled their zone very well in the past because we had multiple guys dribble-penetrate. Tonight, we only had one able to do it, and he took himself out of the game."
That one was Siva, who scored eight of Louisville's first 13 points but was shut out the rest of the way.
He picked up his second and third fouls in a span of 24 seconds and sat the last 6:51 of the first half.
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com