Sunday night at the Carrier Dome, Syracuse used a 14-4 first half run to blow open their conference home opener against Florida State and never let the margin get closer than nine points after that, cruising home with a 70-57 victory. It was not all good vibes for the Orange (11-4, 3-0 ACC), though, as that run came directly on the heels of freshman forward Chris McCullough suffering an injury that required him being helped off the floor.
McCullough had run out in front of the defense on a fast break and, when trying to corral a lead pass, came down awkwardly and collapsed to the floor. He had to be assisted off the floor during the ensuing time out and went directly to the locker room. No diagnosis was given following the game.
The difference on the scoreboard was due to three-point shooting. SU, who had been one of the worst shooting teams from deep in the nation earlier in the year, continued their strong perimeter shooting of the last four weeks by draining 10-of-17 shots from deep. The Seminoles (9-7, 1-2), who came into the game connecting on a mere 27.5 percent of their attempts from three-point range, made that percentage worse by hitting only 2-of-16 treys and the first triple came after nearly 33 minutes of game action.
Florida State grabbed the lead at 2-0 and it would prove to be their only one of the contest. The Orange scored the next four points, allowed the Seminoles to tie the game, then took the lead for good when Trevor Cooney splashed a three off the left wing. Syracuse nudged the lead out to six points, then, shortly after a pair of FSU free throws, Chris McCullough went down in a heap at the eight-minute mark and left the game.
SU responded by blitzing Florida State with a 14-4 run. Cooney came wide open off a screen and swished a three from the left corner. After FSU got a bucket, Michael Gbinije matched Cooney’s corner three with one of his own for the same spot, then would dish to Cooney for his third triple in the first dozen minutes. Ron Patterson capped the burst with a three of his own and the Orange led, 26-12, with less then eight minutes left in the first half.
Shortly after, Cooney would bury his fourth three and push the margin to 33-16. The Seminoles would scratch out the next six points, but Gbinije found a wide-open lane to close out the first half scoring with an easy lay-up with just a few seconds on the clock. The deuce gave SU a 35-22 halftime lead.
The Orange strengthened their lead in the opening minutes of the second half. Rakeem Christmas got an emphatic slam dunk to get the Carrier Dome faithful off their feet, then added a pair of jumpers to push the Syracuse lead to its greatest point at 43-25 less than three minutes into the second half.
Florida State came to life with a 9-2 run to shave the SU lead down to 11 points. Cooney came back to life again, hitting a pair of free throws and another three around an FSU dunk to push the lead back out to 50-36.
The Seminoles responded with six of the next seven points to climb back within 51-42. Gbinije, however, drilled a three to end the FSU run, then followed a Christmas jam with a free throw to reinstate a 14-point lead.
Florida State got a foul shot and their first three of the night to climb back within ten points, then nipped the margin to nine with 5:29 left in the game. The Orange responded with an 11-2 run to deliver the knockout blow.
Cooney started the stretch with (what else) a three, then Tyler Roberson drilled a pair of shots at the stripe. The Seminoles dunked, but Cooney splashed yet another triple. After Kaleb Joseph hit a pair at the line, Cooney dropped in one of his own and Syracuse held a 70-53 lead with just a shade over a minute on the clock.
Trevor Cooney was electric in the game, blistering the nets for 7-of-11 treys en route to a season-best 28 points. The guard also came up with three steals. Rakeem Christmas had an off night shooting (5-of-13 field goals), but still logged a strong stat line of 14 points, 11 rebounds, and five blocked shots. Michael Gbnije fell just shy of his second straight double-double, posting 11 points and nine boards to go with five assists. Tyler Roberson grabbed nine boards and Kaleb Joseph dished out seven assists with only a single turnover.
Xavier Rathan-Mayes led Florida State with 14 points while Boris Bojanovsky added ten points off the bench. Montay Brandin chipped in with nine points for the Seminoles.
The Orange face a quick turnaround, as Wake Forest comes to the Dome on Tuesday. The Demon Deacons (9-8, 1-3) are coming off a 76-69 win over Georgia Tech, ending a two-game slide. Both of those losses came against top-five teams, as they lost to #5 Louisville by nine points and #2 Duke by eight.
Devin Thomas averages almost a double-double for Wake Forest, as he leads the team with 13.1 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. Codi Miller-McIntyre is the only other Demon Deacon averaging double figures in scoring at 12.6 points per game. Mitchell Wilbekin averages 8.6 points per game, in large part due to hitting 44.8 percent of his three-point shots.
The game starts at 8:00pm Eastern and will be televised regionally (click this link for list of stations). The contest will also be available online on ESPN3.com.