Wednesday night, Syracuse posted a 25-12 finishing kick over the game’s final ten minutes as they defeated #12 Louisville at the Carrier Dome, 69-59. The Orange (17-9, 8-5 ACC) secured their biggest win of the season by riding Rakeem Christmas in that span, as the senior center scored 12 points to finish the game, including six straight points to give SU the lead for good. Christmas simply owned the game, finishing with 29 points, eight rebounds, four blocked shots, and one tremendous standing ovation late in the game from the home crowd.
The Cardinals (20-6, 8-5) were playing without point guard Chris Jones, who was suspended yesterday for breaking team rules, but his absence was compounded by a simply terrible game from Wayne Blackshear. Blackshear, who came into the game with a team-high 41 three-pointers and averaging just under 11 points per game, played only 19 minutes before fouling out with more turnovers (two) than points (zero).
The greatest discrepancy on the stat sheet came in free throws attempted, as the Orange shot 27 fouls shots (23 in the second half) while Louisville tried only 14. That advantage helped Syracuse finish with 14 more points at the line in the game, but more importantly, SU shot 57.9 percent from the floor in the second half while simultaneously holding the Cards to a 32.1 success rate.
Trevor Cooney opened the game by burying a long three pointer on the first possession of the night for the Orange. Shortly after that, Michael Gbinije hit a trey of his own to give the hosts an 8-6 lead.
Louisville ran off 13 of the game’s next 17 points to seize control of the contest. Seven straight points closed the run for the Cardinals and gave them a 19-12 lead with just over seven minutes elapsed.
The Cards would actually nudge their lead out to eight points shortly after that, but Syracuse put together a run that brought the a stagnant Dome to life. Rakeem Christmas stuck a jumper to start things off, then a couple trips later, Gbinije buried a three pointer and set up Tyler Roberson for a jump shot that made it a one-point game. Gbinije would continue his strong play by blocking a Louisville dunk, then scoring in the paint to put SU on top, 22-21, with 7:30 left in the half.
The Cardinals came back at the Orange, scoring seven unanswered points for a six-point lead. Roberson and Christmas stopped the bleeding for Syracuse, each scoring in the paint to clip the gap to 28-26 late in the opening half. Louisville scored on back-to-back possessions to stretch the lead to six again, but Gbinije sliced into the lane for a lay-up to make it a 32-28 game with the two teams heading to the locker room.
Louisville started the second half with a three-point-play, but Roberson got the Orange offense moving by first hitting a jumper in the key, then setting up a wide open Christmas for a jam that drew Syracuse within 35-32. Roberson drained a free throw to make it a two-point game, then Gbinije offset a Cardinal bucket with a three pointer off a Roberson pass to make it 37-36 in favor of the visitors.
Louisville would stretch their lead again, wrapping a pair of three-pointers around a set of Roberson free throws to go in front by a 43-38 margin. A couple jump shots cut the Orange deficit to a single point, and a couple minutes later, Christmas cashed in a pair of free throws to give SU their first lead in almost 16 minutes at 44-43.
The Cardinals responded with scores on consecutive possessions to regain control at 47-44.
Just after the midpoint of the half, Kaleb Joseph made a jumper, triggering an 8-0 Syracuse run. Christmas did the rest of the work in the burst, stringing together a three-point-play, a slam dunk, and a free throw for a five-point Orange lead with just under eight minutes left on the clock.
Louisville stuck a trey to draw within 52-50 and would offset a pair of Christmas foul shots with a dunk to stay within a deuce with under six minutes to play. SU, however, would score on the next three trips down the court to gain some breathing room.
Gbinije drew a foul and connected on both charity shots, then Christmas scored in the paint. Gbinije then threw an alley oop pass to Roberson, who stuffed it home for a 60-52 Orange lead with 4:30 to play.
For nearly three minutes, the only score was a pair of free throws for the Cards. With under two minutes on the clock and the shot clock headed toward zero, Joseph worked himself free on a drive and buried a short jumper, bringing an explosion from the Carrier Dome fans and pushing the SU lead to eight once more.
Louisville responded with a quick three, but the Orange played keep away with the ball and Gbinije drained three of four foul shots around a Cardinal dunk to give the hosts a 65-59 lead. Following a missed jumper, Louisville fouled Roberson after he rebounded.
Roberson buried both shots and the lead was eight points again. The Cardinals raced to get another shot, but this one was errant, as well. Christmas came down with the ball, was fouled, and the hometown fans again roared, this time rising to their feet to salute the senior center.
Christmas obliged the fans by making both foul shots, stretching the margin to ten points. Louisville missed one more shot and the Orange rebounded the ball, then dribbled out the clock.
It was a machine-like performance for Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas, who made 9-of-10 field goals and 11-of-13 foul shots en route to his 29 points. Christmas did most of his work after intermission, piling up 18 second half points. Michael Gbinije stuffed the stat sheet once more, finishing with 18 points (hitting three triples for half of those points), five rebounds, and a game-high six assists.
Tyler Roberson had his second straight strong outing, adding 13 points and leading the Orange with nine boards. Trevor Cooney had a night to forget, making a three on the first possession of the game, then missing his final nine shots.
Three Louisville players reached double digits in scoring, paced by Terry Rozier, who hit three three-pointers en route to a team-high 17 points. Montrezl Harrell had 15 points and nine boards for the Cards, but had only three points after the break. Quentin Snider, who started for the first time in place of the suspended Chris Jones, had 13 points, including a trio of treys. Chinanu Onuaku chipped in eight points and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds.
On Saturday, the Orange will cap their three-game homestand when Pittsburgh, losers of their last four road contests, comes to the Carrier Dome. The Panthers (17-10, 6-7) have dropped two of their three games, all against ranked foes, since knocking off SU at home on February 7, 83-77.
Rakeem Christmas (23 points, 12 rebounds, and six blocks) and Michael Gbinije (23 points, four steals) led Syracuse in the first matchup. Pitt had five scorers reach double figures in the come-from-behind win, led by Jamel Artis, who rang up a 20-point, ten-rebound double-double, and Sheldon Jeter’s 18 points off the bench.
The action will get underway at noon Eastern and the contest will be televised on the ACC Network. In addition, the telecast can also be streamed at ESPN3.com.