FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — In a raucous environment and against the best BCS opponent Syracuse will face before the end of the calendar year, who else could Jim Boeheim turn to but his seniors when the Orange’s backs were against the wall?
Seniors James Southerland and Brandon Triche played crucial roles in the Orange’s 91-82 win in Fayetteville Friday night. Throughout Arkansas’ white-out, Southerland had a white-hot night from beyond the arc. The senior forward connected on his first five attempts from long range and finished with a school record-tying nine treys and 35 points, each one generating a harsher wince than the last from Arkansas’ boisterous student section.
While Boeheim was effusive of Southerland after the game, he also attributed his success to his teammates who broke through the Razorback’s pressure defense to find him opportunities.
“James was right there all night. Michael (Carter-Williams) and Brandon (Triche) and C.J. (Fair) did a great job of breaking the pressure and getting into situations where they could get him open shots, and he’s going to make those shots,” he said.
While the Orange scored a season-high 91 points, the outcome wasn’t decided until the final two minutes.
“Offensively, we played as well as you can play in a tough environment,” Boeheim said. “This is a tough place and you have to play every minute.”
Southerland’s night will be remembered—you won’t see college players hang 30 very often, let alone when they come off the bench—but Syracuse was pressed for help when he took a seat after picking up his fourth foul five minutes into the second half.
In front of a hostile Bud Walton Arena crowd, the Orange walked a tight rope of foul trouble and mental mistakes as its 15-point lead faded quickly in the second. After Marshawn Powell connected on a layup to cut Syracuse’s lead to five with 12:15 left to play, head coach Jim Boeheim made what proved to be a crucial adjustment in his backcourt.
Demanding that one of his seniors step up, Boeheim moved Michael Carter-Williams off the ball and plugged Brandon Triche in at the point. Two minutes and 16 seconds later, Triche had scored ten straight points for the Orange, including a pair of 3s after coming into the game a frosty 2 for 11 from distance on the season.
As per his calling card, Boeheim didn’t mince words as he reflected on the change in strategy after the game. While the frenetic pace (an 88-possession affair) was a factor in the decision as Carter-Williams grew tired, it was a matter of Boeheim imploring a senior to take the lead.
“He’s got to make those shots for us to be effective. He has to be able to step up and do that,” Boeheim said. “He needs to do that more. Michael was getting tired, but Brandon needs to take the ball in those situations.”
With Syracuse’s schedule softening as it nears the start of Big East play, the Orange got a major test and passed on the shoulders of its most experienced players.