Sunday afternoon, Syracuse took a lead they would not relinquish just over seven minutes into their game against Hampton, but it took a strong closing kick over the contest’s final nine minutes to secure a 65-47 win at the Carrier Dome in the 2K Sports Classic. The Orange (2-0) rattled off ten straight points late in the second half to push a six-point lead to 16 and effectively end the game against the Pirates (0-2).
SU allowed the guests only 20 points in the second half on eight field goals, allowing them to overcome their own poor shooting effort, as they made only 41.4 percent of their shots from the floor. The 2-3 zone defense was again effective for Syracuse, as they forced 15 turnovers and converted them into 16 points.
The opening minutes of the game were close, and Hampton even held an early 5-4 lead. The Orange, however, scored on consecutive trips down the floor, including a three-ball by Trevor Cooney that gave SU a 9-5 lead with less than four minutes off the clock. The Pirates responded by scoring eight of the game’s next dozen points, knotting the score at 13 a side.
B.J. Johnson dropped in a three for Syracuse to take the lead for good, and Tyler Roberson his a jump shot a couple minutes later to nudge the Orange lead to five points just before the halfway point of the opening half. After Hampton shaved the margin to a single point, SU posted a 7-2 burst capped by another Johnson triple over the span of a couple minutes. The deep bomb gave Syracuse their biggest lead of the game to that point at 27-21.
The visitors hung tough, cutting the lead to four points as they traded scores with the Orange three times over the next couple minutes, but SU got a pair of jumpers to close the half and take a 35-27 lead at intermission.
Syracuse scored the first four points out of the break to go up by a dozen, but Hampton would not go away. Over the next eight minutes and change, the Pirates chipped away at the margin, closing to within 45-40 with just over nine minutes on the clock.
Cooney took a handoff coming around a screen and buried a three to push the Syracuse lead to eight. Hampton struck back with a jumper, but the Orange responded with ten unanswered points, including three-point-plays from Roberson and Michael Gbinije. The burst gave SU a 58-42 lead with 2:34 on the clock.
Hampton hit a quick three, but the Orange got a pair of free throws from Chris McCullough and a triple from Gbinije to go up 63-45 with just over a minute left. Each team added a basket to their side of the scoreboard before the final horn.
As he did in the season opener against Kennesaw State, Rakeem Christmas set a personal record. This time, Christmas corralled a personal record 16 rebounds, including ten on the defensive end, and added a team-high 15 points for a double-double. Christmas nearly had a double-double in the first half, scoring ten points and collecting nine boards before the break.
Chris McCullough was the only other SU player to reach double figures in scoring, finishing with 13 points, and also had three blocked shots. Michael Gbinije added nine points while Trevor Cooney and B.J. Johnson each kicked in eight points, including two three-pointers apiece. Johnson did all of his scoring in the first half.
Quinton Chievous led all scorers by ringing up 17 points for Hampton. Deron Powers added nine points to the Pirate attack.
Thursday night, the Orange will face off with California in the semifinals of the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The Golden Bears also enter the game with a 2-0 record, having routed both Alcorn State and Kennesaw State by 34 points in the opening rounds of the season-opening tourney.
This will be the third consecutive season the two teams have met. In the 2013 NCAA Tournament, Syracuse advanced by a 66-60 final, and SU also won in the semifinals of the EA Sports Maui Invitational last year, 92-81.
The game will start 25 minutes after the completion of the first semifinal, which will be contested by #10 Texas and #25 Iowa. Tip-off for the Orange and the Golden Bears will be approximately 9:30pm Eastern on ESPN2. The consolation and championship games of the tournament will follow on Friday.
In other Syracuse sports news….
- The men’s cross country team, which is ranked third in the nation, won the NCAA Northeast Regional for the fifth time in six years on Friday, as the unit’s top four runners all finished in the top ten individually. The women’s team, who stand #22 in the country, finished fourth in the regional and both teams will race in the NCAA Championships on Saturday in Terre Haute, Indiana.
- The SU women’s field hockey team advanced to the NCAA Final Four for the second time in three seasons and for the third time in school history by defeating Penn State on Sunday, 3-1. The #4 Orange (17-6) will face #1 North Carolina in the national semifinals on Friday at 1:00pm Eastern. Syracuse split their two matchups with the Tar Heels earlier this fall, dropping a regular season matchup, but bouncing UNC from the ACC Tournament semifinals.
- The men’s soccer team, which entered the game ranked atop the national polls, fell to #19 Louisville in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament. The Orange (15-3-1) dropped a 1-0 game, but are eligible for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. The 48-team field will be announced on Monday afternoon.