LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Louisville’s stay as the No. 1-ranked basketball team in the country will last only a week.
No. 6 Syracuse stunned the Cardinals 70-68 before a raucous 22,814 fans at the KFC Yum! Center on Saturday, with turnover-plagued Syracuse guard Michael Carter-Williams stepping up with four points and two huge defensive plays in the final minute of the game.
Harassed much of the game by small guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith of Louisville, Carter-Williams had two steals in the final 29 seconds. He converted the first one into a dunk and then added a free throw, converting a 68-67 deficit into the final margin of victory for the Orange. The second steal prevented Louisville from getting a shot off in the final seconds.
Syracuse's Michael Carter-Williams grapples for the ball with Louisville's Wayne Blackshear. Carter-Williams came up big in the final minute.
"He had a very shaky start, but he’s a big-time player," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said of Carter-Williams. "He could have gotten discouraged, but he didn’t.
"He made a great steal and a great play and then he comes right back down and gets another one. Last year, we did the same thing. Last play here, we stole the ball and we did it again here. Two steals to end the game. Unbelievable."
While the sophomore Carter-Williams made the big plays for Syracuse, it was the senior Siva who made a costly late error for Louisville, throwing the ball away on the first Carter-Williams steal.
Siva also threw a tough-to-handle pass in the waning seconds into the low post to center Gorgui Dieng, who couldn’t control it. Carter-Williams came up with the ball and the clock ran out, ending 40 minutes of rough and tumble, physical basketball.
"It was a great college basketball game," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "They made some really terrific defensive plays down the stretch. Give them credit, they made the plays and the shots down the stretch and we didn’t."
Syracuse's upset marked the second consecutive week the No. 1 team in the Associated Press poll lost. North Carolina State upset then-No. 1 Duke last weekend.
Louisville falls to 16-2 and 4-1 in Big East play, while Syracuse is now 17-1 and 5-0 in the conference. No. 2 Indiana also lost earlier this week. Those three teams, along with Duke, Kansas and Michigan, look virtually inseparable at the top of the rankings, with several other teams close behind. It all sets up for quite a battle towards Atlanta and the Final Four.
"I don’t think about that until the end of the season," Boeheim said of the rankings. "(Louisville) will be there at the end of the year, and the team to beat. I think they will be the team to beat in the country when it all comes down to it in the end."
The Cardinals were playing at home for the first time in school history as the No. 1 team. The only other time the program had been ranked No. 1 was the final regular-season poll during the 2008-09 season, which ended with a loss in the NCAA Tournament. They beat Connecticut on the road Monday night, hours after ascending to No. 1.
"We didn’t mind having the No. 1 ranking, but it really doesn’t matter right now," Siva said. "The time we want to be No. 1 is at the end of the season. We’re going to work our way back up there."
While Pitino admitted he wasn’t very happy after the game he still said he felt like his team "played really well." The Cardinals hit 24 of 59 from the field, had 17 assists and just nine turnovers for the game.
But two of those turnovers came at the worst of times.
"We made some crucial mistakes down the stretch," Pitino said. "We had some good plays and they raked the ball away from us. We don’t come out of it with anything (we need to work on the most). We’re playing good basketball."
Brandon Triche led Syracuse with 23 points, including 18 in a first half in which he didn't miss a shot (7 of 7). Carter-Williams had eight turnovers in the game but more than made up for it with 16 points, seven assists and the flurry of late-game heroics.
Russ Smith led all scorers with 25 for Louisville.
The Orange hit 24 of 49 from the field and 15 of 20 from the free-throw line, while turning it over 16 times. Syracuse won the rebound battle, 36-31.
"They’re a great team with a lot of length and we just have to respect them," Smith said. "Things happen in basketball, we just have to hold our composure. It was wire-to-wire with a great team and we just have to keep going."
It was the third consecutive win against Louisville for Syracuse, dating back to last season. The teams will meet again March 2 in Syracuse.
Smith led the Cardinals, whose 11-game winning streak was snapped, with 25 points on 8 of 18 from the field. Siva was just 1-of-9 from the field and had three points, while Dieng had four points, eight rebounds, six assists and five blocked shots. Chane Behanan had nine points and 11 rebounds, while Wayne Blackshear added nine points for the Cardinals.
"We’re going to have nights when things aren’t falling for our stars," Behanan said. "Russ had a good game but the shots didn’t fall for Peyton and Gorgui. We just have to all play together and play our roles. We’ll learn a lot from this."
Both teams will likely benefit from the competitiveness.
The game was tight nearly the entire way. Syracuse led by eight early and Louisville by nine at one point later in the first half. The teams went to halftime tied at 38.
The Orange led by four with 3:44 remaining, but Smith then hit four free throws sandwiched around a Behanan layup for a 6-0 run that gave the Cardinals a 68-66 lead with 1:58 left.
Blackshear had a chance to extend the lead but missed a shot from the left wing and Carter-Williams was fouled in transition, making one of two free throws with 53 seconds remaining.
Siva then drove down the right side out of a timeout and tried to throw the ball back to the left wing to Blackshear, but Carter-Williams stole it. He raced down the floor and dunked the Orange into the lead as Dieng was just late on a block.
"He had to dunk it," Boeheim said. "I saw Dieng coming. I was really hoping there was going to be a foul there, because I didn’t know if Michael had enough left to dunk. He can dunk in those situations, but that was the only way he was going to score the basket. Dieng would have blocked it if he tried to shoot it."
Louisville still had two chances to win the game. Blackshear had a shot blocked by Jerami Grant and then fouled Carter-Williams. After one more free throw, Siva got the ball down low to Dieng with seven seconds left. But the center bobbled the ball and Carter-Williams came up with the game-sealing steal.
"I told the players before the game, no matter what, this is one game," Boeheim said. "It’s going to count as one game and that’s it. You can talk about it all you want, anything you want, but it’s one game. That’s all it is -- one game."
And a new No. 1.