NEW YORK — Cardarian Raines’ shot didn’t have a chance.
Not against the outstretched arms of 7-footer Fab Melo. Not with the kind of year he’s had so far.
Raines’ shot came with 9:05 left in the first half, with Virginia Tech holding on to what would turn out to be its biggest lead of the game, an 18-11 advantage.
Instead of the easy two, Melo swatted it from the air, starting a fast break. Melo trailed down the floor, and threw down an alley-oop from Brandon Triche, sending the lethargic pro-Syracuse crowd into a frenzy.
“He was really good for us,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “He made a couple really big plays and changed the game.”
The alley-oop couldn’t have come at a better time for Syracuse, as the Orange had missed 11 of its first 16 shots in the game. After that, SU’s offense awoke from the doldrums, as Syracuse went on a 7-2 run to pull to within two points.
It was a baby hook in the paint by Melo that capped the run—a shot that Melo didn’t use last year.
“I had it last year,” Melo said. “I just couldn’t make it.”
He can now.
Melo finished with six points, two rebounds, and more importantly, five blocks.
He was also a main reason why forward Dorian Finney-Smith, who came into the game averaging 8.3 points and 11.0 rebounds a game, finished with just two points and seven rebounds.
“I just go into the game focusing on playing strong on defense,” Melo said.
Of course, there is plenty of room left to improve, but the results have been good so far.
“He needs to rebound a little better for us,” Boeheim said. “He’s got tremendous potential. He has a chance to get better and better through the course of the year.”