Syracuse’s bench was so good in Saturday’s 107-59 blowout against DePaul that the reserves scored 55 points, nearly as many as the entire Blue Demons team combined.
“It’s good for them,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said during his press conference after the game. “We’ve been using those guys.”
Boeheim’s bench come tournament time will likely feature freshmen CJ Fair, Dion Waiters and Fab Melo, plus sophomore James Southerland. All four have had up-and-down seasons but have improved significantly recently.
Melo played 16 minutes, the most he’s played since Dec. 20 against Morgan State. He scored a season-high 10 points and added six rebounds, showing an impressive array of low-post moves. He even added a 15-foot jumper for his final basket of the game.
“Fab Melo showed people what he could really do tonight,” Rick Jackson said to reporters after the game. “With those big guys, we can really go far.”
The freshman center also played several key minutes in Syracuse’s previous game against Georgetown.
During the same two-game stretch Southerland has worked his way back into the rotation.
Southerland played 21 minutes — the most he’d played in a month — and had nine points against Georgetown. Against DePaul, Southerland scored seven points in 14 minutes.
Waiters has seen a similar rise in his minutes after he played just three minutes against Rutgers on Feb. 19 while going scoreless. In his last three games, Waiters has averaged 17.3 minutes and 8.0 points per game.
“Dion has been good for the most part,” Boeheim said. “He just likes to make some bad plays so I can talk to him a little more.”
One of the biggest reasons for the recent improvement has been Syracuse’s schedule. Over the past two weeks, the Orange have played just two games, allowing for more practice time.
“It’s helped,” Boeheim said. “I think it’s really helped the guys coming in off the bench. We probably worked them a little bit harder. The last few days, they’ve had more practice, more work than some of the other guys.”
It’s also allowed Fair, who has been the most consistent of the group, to recover from his second injury of the season. Fair injured his ankle against Villanova on Feb. 21 and played sparingly against the Hoyas.
But Fair showed no lingering effects against DePaul, as he scored 11 points in 16 minutes of play.
“The time it gave me was a huge benefit for my recovery,” Fair said to reporters after the game. “I still have some more time to get to 100 percent before the Big East as far as getting treatment for my ankle and keeping my body good because it’s a long, tough road ahead of us.”