Date story published: Monday, February 27, 1989
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- It probably isn't often that a team can get beat by 16 points and claim a moral victory.
Kentucky could yesterday after losing 89-73 to Syracuse.
The Cats, 12-17, held a 10-point first-half lead over the nation's No. 6 team.
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With barely more than four minutes left, UK trailed only 74-70.
Then, as most people had expected all along, Syracuse dominated. Unleashing its breathtaking fast break, the Orangemen ripped off 11 straight points and outscored UK 15-3 in the final 4:14.
"We surprised some people," said Deron Feldhaus, who relieved an ineffective Reggie Hanson and scored a career-high eight points. "Some people thought we couldn't stay with them at the start. We got tired. That hurt us."
The game was Kentucky's fourth in nine days and "that caught up to us," UK coach Eddie Sutton said. "If you didn't see the game, you'd think it was a blowout. We did compete hard. We displayed at times we can play with the very good teams."
Derrick Miller, who led UK with 21 points, best summed up the game.
"We had them playing the way we wanted to play," Miller said. "All of a sudden they started running wild."
Sherman Douglas, whose 14 assists left him nine short of the NCAA career record of 894, directed the fatal attack. Douglas contributed two baskets and three spectacular lob passes for dunks in the breakout.
Douglas' driving layup followed a Matt Roe three-pointer to give Syracuse a 79-70 lead.
Center Derrick Coleman, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds, took Douglas' lob and one-handed the ball through the basket to give Syracuse its first double-digit lead, 81-70.
A Kentucky timeout with 2:05 left didn't slow Syracuse. Miller missed a three-pointer and Douglas sprinted to a dunk. That made it 83-70.
LeRon Ellis was stripped and Douglas fed a lob to Stephen Thompson for another dunk, 85-70.
"The things that beat us were the two things I told the team before the game they had to do," Eddie Sutton said. "One, you must get back on defense because Syracuse is one of the best transition teams I've seen in a long while. Two, you've got to do a good job on the boards. They got a lot of put- backs, especially in the second half."
Even Chris Mills' layup -- UK's first points in more than three minutes -- couldn't stop the fast break. Douglas fed another lob to Thompson, whose 13-for-16 shooting reflected his dunk-and-layup game. Thompson finished with a game-high 27.
Asked what turned Syracuse on, Thompson said: "We didn't want to lose the game. They were confident they could beat us."
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim emphasized Roe's three-pointer. The shot extended the Orangemen's lead to 77-70 with 4:14 left.
"A big play," Boeheim said. "I was really thinking of taking a timeout. Maybe I should have. Then I could say I set it up and I'd look smart.
"That made it a lot easier. When you're holding the ball and being patient like Kentucky was, you have to play faster when you get behind. It's very hard to change gears."
UK made one of five shots and committed two turnovers in the final 4:14.
Beginning with Roe's three-pointer, Syracuse made its last seven shots. The three dunks down the stretch were among the 11 Syracuse threw down.
If the game could be played again, Sutton said he would have dropped a third player back to defend against the break. Asked why he hadn't made the switch, Sutton said: "Because we didn't have eight days to prepare."
Syracuse, which improved to 23-5, had last played Feb. 18.
Boeheim saw nothing wrong with UK's preparation.
As expected, the Cats spread the floor and sought to shorten the game with offensive patience.
Sean Sutton scored seven of his 13 points in the first five minutes to help prevent an early knockout.
Sutton's two free throws gave Kentucky its largest lead, 33-23, with 7:49 left.
"Kentucky just came out and was better prepared," Boeheim said. "At halftime, we were fortunate to be in the game."
A driving dunk by Feldhaus gave UK a 42-36 lead. But Roe's three-pointer at the buzzer cut the lead to 42-39 at halftime.
In the second half, "We got some transition baskets we didn't get in the first half," Boeheim said. "Probably because we couldn't get them out of anything in the first half. Our defense was a little better in the second half."
UK made only 13 of 31 second-half shots. After a 51.9 percent first half, the Cats ended up shooting 46.6 percent.
Syracuse warmed up as the game went on. The Orangemen made 23 of 31 second-half shots (74.2 percent) to finish with 64.5 percent shooting.
"We weren't as active defensively," said Sutton, who again noted UK's grueling recent schedule. "They got easier shots in the second half."
From the 11:26 mark of the first half to the 16:08 mark of the second, UK did not trail.
A free throw by Billy Owens, who made his seven shots from the floor, put Syracuse ahead 48-47 with 16:08 left.
Syracuse took the lead for good, 55-54, on Owens' jumper at the 13:37 mark.
UK hung in there until the final four minutes.
"You can't feel good about losing, but we gave it our best shot," Ellis said. "Not playing smart, fatigue, the home court. There were a lot of factors in letting them get on a run. I think Syracuse is the best team in college basketball."