It might have been the most important win of the season but the Orange’s performance wasn’t exactly impressive. Their effort was impressive but the overall play was not. But Syracuse showed its character by bouncing back after its first loss of the season to take down a very strong Cincinnati team in a hostile environment.
It looked like it might be a repeat performance of Saturday night as the Bearcats shot lights out early just as Notre Dame had. Cincy nailed four of their first five 3-pointers and each seemed deeper than the last. Cashmere Wright nailed three in a row. But the Orange adjusted and got out on those shooters extending to NBA range. Cincinnati didn’t get nearly as many clean looks the rest of the way and as a result they hit just 4 of their final 20 attempts from deep.
On the other side of the court, Syracuse couldn’t buy a 3-point bucket. The team was getting open looks but nothing was falling. They missed their first eight attempts and didn’t hit a 3-pointer until under 10 minutes remaining in the game. That 3 gave the Orange a 43-42 advantage and a lead they would never relinquish.
Rakeem Christmas didn’t exactly make Orange fans forget about Fab Melo but he did have his best game of the season. He held his own against Yancy Gates after being abused by Jack Cooley on Saturday. He led the team with 9 rebounds and 3 blocks in a season-high 27 minutes of action.
The biggest difference between this game and the Notre Dame game was the effort on the glass. Notre Dame outrebounded the Orange by 13 and last night Syracuse held a 36-35 edge on the boards. CJ Fair and Kris Joseph had 6 rebounds apiece and James Southerland had 7. This should be the norm and not the exception. This is what it looks like when Syracuse fights for rebounds. This is what it looks like when athletes box out and take advantage of their size and skill to secure the ball. This is what helped the Orange overcome a 3-for-12 night from 3-point range and 5-for-15 from the free throw line.
The other huge difference was the execution in the halfcourt set. Movement of the ball and off the ball was much better. The offense didn’t get stagnant and look for a single player to attack on his own. It was the veterans that stepped up with Joseph, Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche all big contributors. This was especially important with Dion Waiters having his worst game of the season. Joseph finished with a team-high 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting, Scoop added 13 and 7 assists and Triche finished with 11. Scoop and Joseph could’ve padded those stats if they had just made their free throws. The two combined to make 1 of 9 attempts.
The win keeps the Orange in sole possession of first place and they now get a few days off before playing West Virginia at home. Whether Melo will be eligible for this weekend is still unknown but the strong performance by Christmas showed that Syracuse can weather the storm if he remains ineligible.Robbie Gillies