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SU needs repeat of ‘06 Big East revival

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Syracuse fans, take heart. There is hope for this year’s Orange in the Big East Conference Tournament based on past performances.

Having lost three of the last four and seven of 12 following an 18-1 start, SU heads into tonight’s tournament second-round game with Seton Hall at Madison Square Garden on a downward spiral that seems to have no end.

Coach Jim Boeheim’s team struggled mightily on offense the past month and a half, and there has been no indication that they will snap out of its funk just like that.

However, there is precedent for what this year’s team is going through. Just look back to the 2005-06 season and SU was in a similar predicament as it headed to New York City.

The Orange began tournament play on an ugly three-game losing streak, which included that infamous 108-69 blowout loss at DePaul in the next to the last game of the regular season.

That was preceded by a 15-point loss at Georgetown and a disappointing 10-point defeat against Villanova in the Carrier Dome finale.

But in four magical days in the Big Apple, the Orange turned things around and captured their fifth and last Big East Tournament crown, thanks to Gerry McNamara’s last-second heroics in the first two wins over Cincinnati and Connecticut.

“After we got blown out at DePaul, we were asking ourselves if we were that bad or was that just a one-game thing,” said McNamara, now an SU assistant coach. “Then we played poorly vs. Villanova and our confidence took another hit. But we always felt like the Garden was like our second home, and that we always had good vibes when we took the court there.”

SU hopes those same feelings of comfort will make a difference for a squad that was shaken to its core after a humiliating 61-39 loss at Georgetown last Saturday in the regular-season finale.

“Right now we’re not a good tournament team,” Boeheim said after the Georgetown game. “That’s why New York is crucial. If we can go to the Big East Tournament and, hopefully, play a couple of games, at least, that would help tremendously. Even if we lose, did we play better? Then, with a couple of good games behind us, we’d have a week to work on things.”

For a team that has always relied on a potent offense, the recent struggles are somewhat bewildering. SU’s offensive efficiency, among the best in the nation during its strong start, has become a distant memory.

SU is shooting poorly, that’s pretty obvious. In that last 12-game stretch, the Orange has hit just 37 percent from the floor overall and a woeful 29 percent on 3-pointers.

Contrast that to nearly 49 percent shooting overall and almost 39 percent on 3-pointers the first 19 games and you can see why SU has slipped into the No. 5 seed for the Big East Tournament.

Granted, the Big East teams know how to defend the Orange better than the nonconference foes. Still, SU has attacked defenses poorly of late, often settling for poor shots where another pass or two would get them a better, higher-quality look.

“It’s on us to be more patient, to get better shots and then they will start falling,’’ said SU senior Brandon Triche, who has been mired in a horrendous shooting slump the last five games. “I know we haven’t look good, but we’re not that far away. I still believe this team is very good offensively, and that we will snap out of this.”

Triche is just 15-for-52 from the floor during a woeful five-game stretch, and has made just 1 of his last 17 3-point shots.

Fellow senior James Southerland has made 11 threes in that same period, but he’s also missed 27.

“James and Brandon have got to get going. That’s the bottom line if we’re going to be a good tournament team,” Boeheim said.

SU has also gotten virtually nothing out of its vaunted transition game in recent weeks. And it rarely gets offensive put-backs.

Without any easy points, it puts too much pressure on the half-court offense.

Conversely, SU’s defense has been excellent. The Orange has allowed an average of just 58 points in its seven losses since Jan. 26.

Boeheim, who has seen weird things happen at MSG when he least expected it, said, “anything can and usually happen down there. We’re not one of the Top 8 or Top 10 teams, no,” But could we beat one of those Top 8 or Top 10 teams? Yeah. It’s unfortunate that we lost like this so late in the year. But it doesn’t mean we can’t regroup. It’s not a slam dunk that we will, but it’s still very possible.”

Porter unanimous pick

Georgetown’s Otto Porter Jr. is the unanimous choice as Big East player of the year and the Hoyas’ John Thompson III is the coach of the year, more than three decades after his father won the award for the first time.

JaKarr Sampson is the second straight St. John’s player to be selected rookie of the year.

The awards were presented at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.

Porter, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, led the Hoyas to a share of the regular season title with Louisville and Marquette. In conference games only, Porter was second in the league in scoring (18.1), fifth in rebounding (7.3), tied for third in steals (1.8) and second in 3-point shooting (44.1 percent).

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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