NEW YORK – It was an Orange-hued holiday party at Madison Square Garden Saturday afternoon, and the majority of the 12,648 on hand were whooping it up with plenty of seasonal cheer as the ‘Cuse held on to a two-point halftime lead against Temple in a very entertaining game in the “Challenge Round” of the Gotham Classic.
20 minutes to win 901 for Jim Boeheim, and an 11-0 start or this year’s consensus Top 5 team. The only problem was a well-coached Temple team spoiled the fun for the majority on hand.
Forget the fact that the Owls had lost to the same Canisius team Wednesday night that SU beat by 24-points a week ago. Under Fran Dunphy, Temple had knocked off a top-10 team in each of the last four seasons while unranked, and they made it five straight years with a strong second-half showing against the SU zone defense, repeatedly finding soft spots that resulted in baskets from many different angles, and did something the Orange did not, hit their critical free throws, to hold on for an 83-79 win.
There were several areas that did in the Orange, including an active Temple “D” that forced Michael Carter-Williams away from looking for open teammates and instead caused him to drive repeatedly to the basket. The nation’s leader in assists entering at just over 10 per game, Carter-Williams had six on Saturday and the entire team only matched his season average.
But the aforementioned old bugaboo of missed free throws was most glaring. SU missed 15 foul shots, including critical ones in the closing minutes of a close game. We haven’t seen that in awhile.
“You don’t like to say that a game comes down to that (missed free throws),” a mellow Boeheim said afterwards. “But when you miss 15 free throws it’s going to be tough to win any game. They made 29, we made 19. There’s just not a way to win tough games, in tough situations, if you’re not going to shoot the ball better from the free throw line.”
So in the exact same locker room (the host New York Knicks lair) that they licked their Bearcat wounds from a Big East tournament semi-final loss last spring, one of only four defeats since March 2011, the Orange players were in an unusual state of mind, commenting about a defeat.
“We’re not used to losing here, which is good,” said reserve guard Trevor Cooney who played just eight minutes with a basket against Temple. “But when you do lose, you definitely have to take a step back and realize that you can be beat and you’ve got to learn from it. Hopefully, we come back and have some great practices heading into our next couple of games and the Big East season.”
The new date to circle now is Jan. 2, coinciding with the Big East opener against Rutgers in the Dome. Jim Boeheim’s next potential shot at win number 903.