Syracuse toughens up on defense and dispatches Long Beach State

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Gbinije lead Syracuse with 24 points

Sunday afternoon, Syracuse won consecutive games for the first time in a month when they put away Long Beach State in the second half in an 85-67 win. The Orange (8-4) were staggered early, but rode a strong defensive performance in the second half to victory over the 49ers (5-9).

SU permitted Long Beach State to shoot 55.6 percent in the first half, but bounced back by holding them to a 37.5 percent success rate in the second session. The 49ers connected on only 2-of-12 three-point shots after halftime and 6-of-23 in the game. The Orange also forced 15 turnovers in the game, including 11 in the first half, and cashed them in for 24 points. Those 11 turnovers were transformed into 20 first half points.

Syracuse also turned in a strong offensive effort, making 57.7 percent of their field goals on the day, including 7-of-12 triples. Their second half shooting mark was even better, as they shot 71.4 percent from the floor. The Orange did turn it over 13 times on the day, including a cluster of five miscues in the first five minutes of the second half, but compiled 22 assists on their 30 baskets.

After Rakeem Christmas opened the scoring with a lay-in for SU, Long Beach State blitzed them with a 14-2 run to take a ten-point lead less than six minutes into the game. After Chris McCullough made a pair of free throws to stop the burst, Jim Boeheim opted to use a full-court press to speed up the game.

The gambit worked.

» Related: There were positive signs to take away from Syracuse’s loss to Villanova

McCullough’s fouls shots started a streak of 11 straight points for Syracuse. It took less than 90 seconds for the Orange, as they got three turnovers, including a pair of steals, out of the press. The steals led to lay-ins from Michael Gbinije and Kaleb Joseph to finish the streak with SU in front, 15-14, and the Carrier Dome faithful invigorated.

The 49ers got a pair of free throws to stop the run, then tacked on a triple to go up by four points. Gbinije then took the crowd to a level they had not reached before, skying to throw down a jam off a Tyler Roberson miss.

Long Beach State got a bucket for a 21-17 lead, but then the Orange went on another 11-0 run. This streak was courtesy of Trevor Cooney and Gbinije, who alternated setting each other up for three-point bombs. Cooney hit a trey to start the run off a Gbinije pass, then found Gbinije for a three and an SU lead. Gbinije dished to Cooney again for a three, then missed one of his own. Christmas gathered the board and scored to finish the run with the Orange up, 28-21, and the 49ers calling timeout.

Syracuse carried a 37-29 lead into the final media timeout of the opening half, but Long Beach State ran off an 11-4 stretch to climb back within a single point. The Orange held the ball for the final shot of the half. Cooney caught the ball curling off a screen on the left sideline, but he came in from out of bounds, turning the ball over with 2.4 seconds remaining.

Gbinije made an alert defensive play, though, slapping away the 49er inbounds pass. Cooney gathered the ball and stuck a 45-foot shot just before the buzzer, pushing the SU lead to 44-40 at halftime.

A pair of Long Beach State free throws started the second half, but Gbinije knocked down a jumper and a three to start a 7-0 run that gave the Orange a 51-42 lead. Syracuse then started a stretch of sloppy play, turning the ball over three straight times to help the 49ers score on three straight possessions.

SU responded with an 11-2 run again triggered by Gbinije. The swingman hit a trey, then added another jumper. Joseph got involved, setting up Christmas and Roberson for baskets, then Gbinije fed Christmas for a dunk to cap the burst with Syracuse on top, 62-50.

Long Beach State clipped the lead to nine on two separate occasions, but the Orange fought them off with five straight points for a 69-55 lead. After the 49ers got a lay-up, SU matched the tally, but in name only. Joseph made a sensational athletic play on a drive, leaping into the air, spinning completely around, then banking in the ball to send the home fans into a frenzy.

With just over 4:30 left in the game, Long Beach State trimmed the lead to ten points, but Gbinije shredded their defense with some pinpoint passing to put the game on ice. First, he fed Roberson with a long bounce pass for a dunk, then Joseph for a lay-up, and after milking most of the shot clock, he found Christmas for a stuff and an 81-65 lead with under three minutes to play.

Rakeem Christmas and Michael Gbinije both blitzed Long Beach State for 24 points. Christmas added ten boards for his second consecutive double-double and fourth of the season. Gbinije set a career-best mark in scoring on the strength of four three-pointers and added eight assists. Trevor Cooney chipped in with 16 points, including 14 in the opening half. Kaleb Joseph chipped in with eight points, seven assists, and four steals.

The 49ers got a balanced offensive attack with four players posting double digit scoring. Mike Caffey, Tyler Lamb, and Eric McKnight tied to lead the team with 14 points. David Samuels added 13 points to the Long Beach attack.

SU will put a bow on both 2014 and their non-conference schedule on Wednesday when they host in-state rival Cornell. After winning three straight, the Big Red (6-6) have dropped two of their last three games, including Sunday’s 59-52 overtime defeat at the hands of St. Peter’s.

Cornell has a balanced attack on offense, as four players average at least 9.8 points per game. Shonn Miller leads the Big Red with 16.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game, while Robert Hatter averages just under 13 points per contest.

Once again, ESPNU will televise the game, which can also be seen online at ESPN3.com. Tip-off is set for 6:00pm Eastern.

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Jim Stechschulte

About Jim Stechschulte

A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade, where he currently resides. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by NBA.com. Follow him on Twitter @DSafetyGuy.
Surprisingly, defense is a concern for Syracuse
Instant Juice: Syracuse 85, Long Beach State 67
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