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As injuries and eligibility issues pile up, reserves ready to go for short-handed Syracuse

Brandon Triche never flinched when asked how No. 6 Syracuse would cope with its depleted lineup.

After all, that's the Orange way. No complaints here.

"Everybody's ready to play," he said. "Everybody works hard. I guess there's a little bit of inexperience, but we'll be fine."

With senior forward James Southerland still benched because of an eligibility matter — he's missed four games — and freshman forward Dajuan Coleman on crutches after knee surgery this week that will keep him out at least one month, Syracuse (18-2, 6-1 Big East) is down to seven scholarship players as it gets ready to play at Pittsburgh (17-5, 5-4) Saturday.

Coach Jim Boeheim, Syracuse's most famous walk-on, has forewarned everybody to be prepared. Not that they wouldn't be anyway.

"You've got to be ready," assistant coach Adrian Autry said. "As a good coach, you've got to try to be as prepared as possible. They understand that it's a reality that they may be called on to play two or three or four minutes. You just never know. The games still have to be played."

Reserves Matt Lyde-Cajuste and Griffin Hoffmann, both seniors, and juniors Nolan Hart and Russ DeRemer have played in nine games each, logging a total of 45 minutes between them. Together, they have combined for five whole points, and their action has come in the waning moments of games that had already been decided. None played in the 75-71 overtime loss at Villanova last Saturday.

Lyde-Cajuste walked on to the team as a freshman and was awarded a scholarship this year. At 6-foot-4 and a muscular 210 pounds, he's practiced against the Orange centers and this year has dueled with the forwards, a position he'll likely man if needed.

"Coach says to be ready, and I'm definitely ready," said Lyde-Cajuste, who played in 20 games his first three years at Syracuse. "It's another opportunity, another way for me to help my teammates, do something positive on the court."

If nothing else, the team is well rested, not having played since Saturday's loss in Philadelphia.

"It gives our players time to see what their roles are going to be. Then the biggest thing is everybody just being comfortable with their position on the floor," Triche said. "Hopefully, we stay out of foul trouble."

But opposing coaches have been doing all they can to make that happen. Triche has been in trouble three times this season, fouling out against Detroit and reaching four fouls at Arkansas and vs. Villanova at home. Southerland saved the day in two of those wins, scoring a career-high 35 against the Razorbacks and contributing 22 to hold Detroit at bay for Boeheim's 900th victory. Southerland did not play against the Wildcats in the Carrier Dome Jan. 12, his eligibility issue surfacing just before the opening tipoff.

Starting forward Rakeem Christmas, tops on the team with 40 blocks, has also heard his share of whistles. He's been called for four fouls in four of the past six games and has 43 on the season. Backup center Baye Moussa Keita (47) and starting point guard Michael Carter-Williams (45) lead the way.

"I think everybody is going to be ready," said Keita, who fouled out in nine minutes against Villanova last Saturday. "I think we're going to be fine. All the games are going to be tough. We just have to give it everything we have."

Although Boeheim has nine players averaging 13 or more minutes this season (eight without Southerland), he's been a master juggler when it comes to his lineup.

"Sometimes, you only play seven guys. It all depends on the game," Autry said. "Over the long haul, I think it's something we'll have to deal with, tweak some things here and there, if it continues to be that way. We'll get Dajuan back, hopefully, and see where everybody else goes."

For his part, Southerland is still practicing with the team and still flashing that infectious smile, hopeful of a resolution to his problem sooner than later.

"He's still with the guys, still with the team, preparing as if he was getting ready to play," Autry said. "His spirits are good. He's doing everything he's supposed to do."

In the meantime, Lyde-Cajuste is preparing for some more time in the limelight. His biggest foe will most likely be his nerves.

"The jitters will be there to a certain extent, but at the end of the day it's basketball," he said. "I've been playing a more intricate role in practice to get my legs under me.

"I'm very excited."

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