LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Louisville fans got tired of their former coach continually saying after losses, “the problem was our defense.”

And believe me, after Monday night’s 78-73 loss to Syracuse in the KFC Yum! Center, I want to tee off on the Louisville offense against the 2-3 Orange zone. Actually, what I want to do is run over to Scott Davenport’s house and watch some game tape of the Knights attacking zones the way you’re supposed to do it, with player movement and ball movement and quick passing.

There were times in Monday’s game that Louisville made the Syracuse zone look more complicated than a Rubik’s Cube, and these are guys who have faced Syracuse before. They know how to attack the Syracuse zone. They have done so with success in the past. They did it at times on Monday night. But when it counted, Louisville’s players all seemed to want to make the big shot instead of the right shot

PHOTO GALLERY | Syracuse at Louisville 

I could go on. But I won't, because the simple fact is that offense wasn’t the biggest problem Louisville coach David Padgett had on Monday – and that’s saying something. Louisville has lost in ACC play – in fact it has now lost five times. None of them were as ugly as this one.

This was a loss to a Syracuse team that’s had a harder time scoring than Tom Brady had catching that pass in the Super Bowl. The Orange rank 13th in the 15-team ACC in offensive efficiency. They’re also 13th in effective field-goal percentage, 14th in two-point field goal percentage and second in percentage of possessions that end in turnovers. About all they have done well offensively is shoot free throws, and Louisville sent them to the line 29 times.

Syracuse had broken the 70-point mark just twice in ACC play, and one of those was an overtime game. But the Orange put 78 up on Louisville by blowing past its defenders, hitting short jumpers in the lane and picking their spots for three-pointers. They shot 47.2 percent from the field and scored on 55 percent of their possessions.

“Defensively, we’ve got to get some things figured out,” Padgett said. “. . . Florida State comes in here and scores 80. Syracuse scores 78. We’re just not playing the defense that we’re capable of playing. We’ve just got to look at it and see if we need to change some things up, how we’re doing it and so on and so forth.”

Yada, yada, yada, teams are becoming the Globetrotters in the final 10 minutes of halves against the Cardinals. In the four games prior to this one, Louisville had allowed 61.1 percent shooting in the final 10 minutes of regulation. This game was better than those from that standpoint – Syracuse was only 4-10 in the final 10 minutes – but the Orange also made 11 of 14 free throws in that span.

“We hit some shots,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said after the game. “It’s a lot easier to try to win a game when you score more than 50 points, and we haven’t been able to do that for a few games now.”

So there you have it, straight from a Hall of Famer.

But even with the defensive problems, the Cardinals had a chance to win the game. Down 12 with less than eight minutes to play, they came back because they started pouring into the paint. Six straight Ray Spalding points, two tip-ins and a dunk. Back-to-back Anas Mahmoud jumpers in the lane, then two free-throws from Spalding and, with 4:05 to play, the Cardinals were in decent shape, down just two before the stretch run.

“Louisville did a great job at the end getting the ball inside,” Boeheim said. “We just couldn’t contend with them. We had massive foul trouble.”

Unfortunately, Louisville wouldn’t go inside again. Quentin Snider missed a three pointer, Mahmoud pulled down the rebound, then Snider turned it over. After a pair of Syracuse free throws, Deng Adel pulled the trigger on a three and missed. The Cards got a stop, and V.J. King was fouled to get a pair of free throws to pull Louisville within four with 1:26 to play. But a Marek Dolezaj tip-in put Syracuse back up six on its next possession, and Snider missed a jumper on the other end.

And still the Cardinals had chances. Jordan Nwora hit a three with 27 seconds left and the Cards trailed by only three. The deficit was just four with 25 seconds left, but Louisville burned 12 seconds looking for a three before Adel turned it over, and that was the game.

Spalding sat out the final 52 seconds, but at that point, it didn’t matter. His teammates weren’t looking for him, even though he finished with a team high 18 points and made 7 of 8 shots (while the rest of the team went a collective 17-46 (37 percent).

It's true, good shooting would've covered over the defensive problems. Snider went 1-for-8. Adel was 2-for-9. Louisville isn't going to win many games when those two guys shoot like that. But it could've won this one with those two guys shooting like that, had it played fundamentally better defense.

“When we got it inside we did a good job,” Padgett said. “They made more of an effort there to not let us get it inside, but they’re a good defensive team and there’s a reason they’re the No. 1 field goal percentage defensive team in the ACC. But it wasn’t our offense. If we score 73 points at home, we should be able to win the game. Our defense really just needs to change. We’ve got to do something about it and get back to the way we were defending a couple of weeks ago.”

And on this, he is right. The defense has rested. His challenge is to find a way to wake it up, and keep his team up.

This was a must-win. Players talked in terms of Thursday’s game against Georgia Tech being a must-win, but this game was every bit as important. Losing home teams against conference opponents with losing records is no way to head into the season’s home stretch. Padgett said the team is down, but it’s his job to pick it up.

“We’re obviously struggling a little bit right now,” he said. “We haven’t played very well these last couple of games, and it’s 100 percent on me as the head coach to get it figured out. We will. We’ll get it figured out. We’re just in a little bit of a rut right now. . . .  (The players) are down. They’re as frustrated as I am, because we haven’t been playing well. . . . We’ve got to look at the film and see where we need to get better and come back to practice ready to work.”

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