Jim Boeheim was around the last time Syracuse failed to reach the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons, even though it was 26 years ago. A win in the Orange’s regular-season finale Saturday against Marquette may help the Hall of Fame coach avoid seeing history repeat itself.
Boeheim bitterly complained last season when Syracuse (18-12, 8-9 Big East) was left on the outside looking in at the field of 65 despite a 22-10 record. But the Orange have again left themselves in a precarious situation heading into this game, needing a victory just to salvage a .500 mark in the rugged conference they hope the tournament selection committee will look upon favorably should they be unable to win the conference tournament.
“We all have faith,” Orange freshman Donte Greene said. “We believe that we can do it. We are trying to get Syracuse back to the tournament. (That) was our goal from when I committed, from when I saw they were in the NIT.
“The NIT is not some place we want to be. It’s a slap in the face of the S-U program.”
Syracuse has not missed back-to-back NCAA tournaments since 1981-82, Boeheim’s fifth and sixth seasons coaching the upstate New York school. After what could have been a devastating collapse at home against Pittsburgh last week - their third straight defeat - the Orange took a needed step in building momentum for this game with an 85-73 victory at Seton Hall on Wednesday.
“I hurt all day Saturday,” Greene said. “But we let it go and we came here focused and ready to play. We know what we have to do. We have to win flat out. We have to win our last home game (Marquette on Saturday) and go to New York and I think win two to three games.”
Greene, Arinze Onuaku and Kristof Ongenaet each had double-doubles for Syracuse, which shot 51 percent and outrebounded Seton Hall 54-29. Johnny Flynn added 16 points and eight assists, while Paul Harris scored 14 for the Orange, who committed 22 turnovers.
Turnovers have plagued Syracuse, having committed a conference-worst 261 in its 17 Big East games. That could be a major area for concern for the Orange since Marquette has forced a Big East-high 287.
Syracuse, which enters this game tied with Villanova and Cincinnati for eighth in the Big East, could be seeded as high as seventh but as low as 10th for next week’s conference tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
The 21st-ranked Golden Eagles (22-7, 11-6) can clinch a No. 5 seed for the tournament with a victory, but would fall to sixth with a loss and a victory by West Virginia over St. John’s. Marquette bounced back from a disappointing home loss of its own with a 67-37 rout of Division I newcomer Florida Gulf Coast on Tuesday as Lazar Hayward regrouped from a scoreless game against then-No. 11 Georgetown to total 18 points and 11 rebounds .
“When I don’t play really well, I never hang my head,” said Hayward, who went 0-for-8 last Saturday. “I just look forward to playing the next game.”
Marquette forced 25 turnovers against the Eagles - the fifth consecutive game they have recorded at least 20 - and Dominic James had three steals to lead a ball-hawking defense that finished with 14, also the fifth straight game they’ve recorded at least that many.
James leads the Golden Eagles, who are trying for their seventh win in eight games, in scoring at 13.5 points per game, while Hayward is third at 13.1. Jerel McNeal, who leads Marquette with 66 steals, averages 13.3 points.
The teams met as Big East rivals for the first time last season, with Syracuse winning 70-58 at Marquette.