While the final score of 89-42 suggests a positive season debut for Syracuse in their rout of Kennesaw State, head coach Jim Boeheim likely has many things on his mind. These topics likely range from redshirt junior super-sub Michael Gbinije sitting out the game (Boeheim simply said in his post-game press conference he would be back Sunday) to his team’s almost complete inability to make perimeter jump shots until the contest resembled a game more fit for the Carrier Dome’s next-door neighbor, Archbold Gymnasium.
Based on the margin of victory, it obviously was not even close to all bad for the Orange (1-0), who used a 22-2 run in the first half to blow open the opening contest of the 2K Sports Classic and had five players reach double figures. SU simply took advantage of their superior height, length, and athleticism, bullying the guests in almost all facets of the game, ranging from a 55-26 rebounding advantage, including 24 offensive boards, to forcing 25 turnovers, 15 of them steals.
Kennesaw State (0-1) won the opening tip-off, only delaying the inevitable when Syracuse scored the first five points of the game via offensive rebounds. In fact, hitting the boards was the primary method of scoring for the Orange in the opening minutes, as they got seven points off the glass as part of a 9-2 start to the game.
After their third putback, the SU offense could not score at all and the Owls chipped away, pulling within 9-7 on a 14-foot jumper less than eight minutes into the game, which was compounded by senior Rakeem Christmas committing his second foul of the game on said jump shot. However, with their lone senior gone to the bench, the rest of the Orange responded.
SU exploded for a 22-2 run that lasted for just over nine minutes and included Kennesaw State not scoring in the final 6:11 of that span. The Orange did all of their damage from the field in close, scoring 18 points on dunks or lay-ups. When Trevor Cooney laid the ball in to close the burst, Syracuse held a 31-9 lead with 4:16 left in the opening half.
After the Owls scored to stop the bleeding, B.J. Johnson posted a three-point-play on yet another offensive rebound, then McCullough made Syracuse’s first shot from outside the key in the game, a 17-footer, to stretch the Orange lead to 36-11. Kennesaw State struck back with a three-point-play of their own and a buzzer-beating jump shot to head into the locker room down 20.
Syracuse kept the pressure on in the first four minutes of the second half, scoring 14 of the first 18 points out of the break to push their lead to 50-20. The two teams played fairly evenly for the next five minutes and an Owl triple pulled them back within 30 with just under nine minutes remaining.
SU went on a 12-0 run that lasted just over four minutes and featured Johnson hitting the team’s first three-ball for the night from the right corner in the midst of the run and their second from the left corner to cap the burst. The latter trey put the Orange in front, 75-33, and essentially ended the competitive part of the game.
Shortly after, Ron Patterson zipped a 30-foot pass to Tyler Roberson for a wide-open dunk, then Cooney buried a three of his own to push the margin to 82-37. Syracuse would nudge the margin to 48 points twice before Jim Boeheim sent in a trio of walk-ons with 1:41 left.
After a lousy first half, Rakeem Christmas poured in 17 points in the second half, which would have been a career-high on its own. He complemented his game-high 21 points with nine rebounds in the game. B. J. Johnson, who scored 14 points in his entire freshman campaign, poured in 19 on 7-of-11 shooting. Chris McCullough had a successful debut in orange, posting a double-double of 16 points and 11 boards. Trevor Cooney had a dozen points and Tyler Roberson had a double-double of his own with ten points and ten rebounds.
Nigel Pruitt was the lone Kennesaw State player to crack double figures in scoring, finishing with 11 points. Orlando Coleman, Delbert Love, and Damien Wilson each chipped in with eight.
After shooting 34.9 percent in the first half, Syracuse connected on 67.7 percent (21-of-31) field goals in the second half.
The Orange had scoring advantages of 26-3 in second chance points and 50-14 in points in the paint. They also had 25 points off the Owls’ 25 turnovers.
Both Chris McCullough and B.J. Johnson had 11 points and six rebounds in the first half.
The Orange will continue play in the 2K Sports Classic on Sunday when they welcome Hampton to the Dome. The Pirates (0-1), who were 18-13 and lost in the first round of the NIT to Penn State last season, opened their season on Friday night with a 90-56 loss at Iowa. The Syracuse-Hampton game will start at 4:00pm Eastern and will be televised by ESPNU.