Pitoniak: Triche stumbles for SU

SYRACUSE - This is hardly the final chapter Brandon Triche was hoping to author. Never in a million years did Syracuse University's senior guard imagine that he and his teammates would save their worst for last.

But that's the way it's unfolding and time is running out for them to halt this skid. After an 18-1 start, the Orange men have lost six of their last 10, including three straight with Saturday's 58-53 loss to Louisville in front of 31,173 in the Carrier Dome and a national television audience.

And Triche has been at the center of his team's struggles lately.

Against the Cardinals, the four-year starter converted just two-of-11 shots and had almost as many turnovers (7) as he did points (8). He was at his absolute worst during the stretch run, committing four turnovers in the final three minutes after SU had taken a one-point lead. His woes were a continuation of a disturbing downward trend for him and his teammates. During this 10-game stretch, Triche has made just 17 percent of his 3's and just 35 percent of his shots overall. SU is just 32 percent from beyond the arc and just 41 percent overall in that span.

No wonder the Orange managed just 19 points in the first half against Louisville a week after scoring just 46 points the entire game against Georgetown - the lowest total by an SU basketball team in 45 years.

You can't help but feel for Triche, an exemplary young man who works hard both on and off the court. He is an extremely gifted athlete, with an NBA build, and a head for the game. No one is more confounded by Triche's struggles than his coach.

"I don't know,'' Jim Boeheim said when asked about the young man who has started more games than all but two basketball players in SU history. "I have no answer for it. But he's our guy. We're going to continue to go with him. I think the trade deadline is past.

"I love Brandon Triche,'' Boeheim continued. "We just can't have him playing this way. He 's a great kid. He works his tail off. He's going to graduate on time. He does everything we want our kids to do. But I don't like the way he's playing right now and I don't like the way our team is playing."

Triche grew up in the shadow of the Carrier Dome and attended nearby Jamesville-DeWitt High School. His uncle, Howard Triche, was a starter on the team that went to the 1987 national title game. After deferring to veterans like Andy Rautins, Scoop Jardine and Deon Waiters the past three seasons, Brandon Triche's time had arrived. He was hoping to finish with a flourish, not a whimper.

"A lot of this is on me,'' he said following the Louisville defeat. "I just got to take care of the ball and make the right plays. We were doing that earlier this season. That's why we were winning close games. Now, we're not.

"You're almost in desperation mode - you have to win and we should be winning. It might just take one win to get us going."

Triche shook his head when asked if SU's confidence was shaken after three consecutive losses.

"Shaken?" he said. "I don't think so or else we would probably be losing by a lot more points."

As badly as the Orange men have shot the ball lately, they've still had an opportunity to win their last three games (Georgetown, Marquette and Louisville). Those three losses, it should be pointed out, were to highly ranked teams that play tough defense.

"I still like this team,'' Boeheim said of his 22-7 Orange men. "We've got a good chance to be a good tournament team."

For that to happen, a lot must change - and in a hurry.

Triche needs to regain his swagger; he needs to play like a four-year starter.

And SU must somehow get more production out of their centers. I've been harping on this for several weeks, but it remains the biggest problem facing this
team. Against Louisville, Rakeem Christmas, Baye Moussa Keita and DaJuan Coleman (just three minutes) combined for two points and six rebounds. You read right. TWO points and SIX rebounds. Cardinals center Gorgui Deing had 11 points and 14 rebounds against them.

The putrid production by the Orange centers puts an even heavier burden on their outside shooters. When they're not on, this team struggles mightily to score.

Given that there is more parity than there's ever been in college basketball, I suppose Syracuse could still make a run in the tournament.

But I disagree with Boeheim that there's a good chance they could still be a good tournament team.

I foresee a short march in March.

And an unfulfilling finish to Brandon Triche's college career.

Award-winning columnist and best-selling author Scott Pitoniak has followed SU basketball since the mid-1960s and has covered it since the mid-1970s. He is the author of "Color Him Orange: The Jim Boeheim Story."

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