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Close games concern Boeheim

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SYRACUSE — Despite an 18-1 record, and a conference leading 6-0 mark in the Big East Conference to begin the league slate, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is quite certain of one thing — his team must and will get better as the season heads down the home stretch.

“If we don’t, we’re not going to keep winning these tight games,” Boeheim said after Monday’s gut-wrenching 57-55 comeback win over Cincinnati in the Carrier Dome. “We’ve reacted well, and the kids have really battled with games on the line. But the bottom line is, the more you’re in these kinds of end-of-game situations, the more you have a chance to lose.”

The No. 3 Orange rallied from seven points down in the final five minutes Monday after Saturday’s huge comeback to win at No. 1 Louisville. Boeheim suggested Louisville should have won that game, and that Cincinnati “absolutely” had a better chance to win than the Orange.

“The game was over until Brandon (Triche) and Michael (Carter-Williams) hit all of those big shots,” Boeheim said. “If they don’t make those, it’s an easy win for Cincinnati.”

Triche and Carter-Williams combined for 11 of the final 15 points, two days after that duo played superbly at Louisville.

“But even those two can still get better,” Boeheim said. “Brandon should be an 18-point, six-assist, five-rebound guy every night. And Michael is still learning his position so we expect him to make even bigger strides. But it’s no secret our guards have to play great in games like these.”

Triche, who has started 126 consecutive games in his four-year SU career, agreed with his coach. “I think the guards must play at a high level. But the last two wins have been team wins, with everybody contributing something,” Triche said. “That’s the only way we’re going to accomplish our goals.’’

Boeheim’s big men — Rakeem Christmas, DaJuan Coleman and Baye Moussa Keita — had just two points and five rebounds between them. “That’s really their first bad game, but they are capable of giving us a lot more,” Boeheim said. “And I think they will.”

Freshman Jerami Grant, who shined the last two games, had five points and seven rebounds, while redshirt freshman Trevor Cooney contributed eight points as Boeheim went with a three-guard lineup in both halves.

“The college season is a long, learning process, and we’re in the middle of it,” Boeheim said. “But with some more practice and hard work, I think we can become a much better team.”

what’s SU’s ranking?

Boeheim was asked where he would honestly rank his team, third in this week’s AP Top 25, in the national scheme of things at this point of the season.

The veteran skipper said, “There are probably eight to teams, including us, in the top echelon. But there are 10-15 just behind that could beat any of the top teams. And those are the teams you’re going to draw in the second round of NCAA Tournament.”

He said Duke, if it has injured starter Ryan Kelly available, “is probably the best team with Louisville just behind. Then I’d put us, Kansas, Michigan, Florida, Gonzaga and Butler a notch below. It’s going to be a wild ride to the NCAA Tournament.”

QUICK TURNAROUND

Boeheim’s final words Saturday were in reference to SU having to play at Louisville on Saturday, then turn right around and play a Monday afternoon game.

“It’s ridiculous and stupid,” he said, glaring right at Big East official John Paquette, who was in attendance Monday. “Cincinnati played four league games in eight days and now has nine days off. And now we have a week off before our next game.”

Boeheim said he realizes it’s “all about TV. But let’s do what’s best for the kids first.”

Asked if it was a big deal, playing another game so quickly after an emotional win, Triche said not really. “I think as player we’d rather have a game than a three-hour practice,” he said. “It just happens that those were two very physical games and it took a lot out of (us). But we’re young and I think we can bounce back quickly.”

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