What a difference a year makes.
Last season’s improbable run to the Final Four was orchestrated by steady Michael Gbinije, electrifying Malachi Richardson and determined Trevor Cooney.
All three gone, it was curious to see who was going to step up this year to lead this year’s Orange edition. The team, stocked with raw freshmen along with seasoned grad transfers Andrew White and John Gillon, has the ingredients to be a special unit.
Here comes point guard Frank Howard. He is playing like a floor leader. The sophomore continued an impressive early season with 10 points and 11 assists in the 101-59 victory over South Carolina State at the Dome.
“I have just been taking what the defense gives me and not force it,” Howard said in the locker room after the game.
Last year for Howard was a learning experience. Playing behind Gbinije and Cooney, Howard often was at the end of Coach Jim Boeheim’s patented hooks after a miscue or missed assignment. He has used his first year as a spring board for better results through the first four games.
He added, “So far, it’s been working out.”
SU will lean on Howard as the schedule proceeds with competitive non-conference games before the challenging ACC schedule kicks off on New Year’s Day at Boston College.
“We have some flexibility with so many new faces it’s not going to come together in just a few weeks,” Boeheim reasoned. “It’s going to take awhile.”
It will certainly help that Howard continues his contributions and compliment other returnees Tyler Lydon, Tyler Roberson and DaJuan Coleman. White, the transfer guard from Colorado State, has been picking up the scoring slack from the departed Gbinije.
He finished with 15 points against the Bulldogs after averaging 18 ppg in the season’s first three contests.
Big things are also expected from sophomore big man Lydon, who flirted with the NBA draft after an impressive first season on the Hill. Lydon, who lead the team in 3-point shooting percentage last year, finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds in the most recent victory. More impressively he connected on 4-5 from long range.
“Well, he is a three-point shooter,” the coach said, matter of factly, dispelling the chatter that he was in an early-season slump. “He has been doing that since he got here.”
From the onset, South Carolina State attempted to dictate the game’s tempo by draining the shot clock on its first two possessions. Nine scholarship players saw the court in the game’s first 20 minutes when SU built a 15 point lead. In second half, the Orange led by as much as 50 en route to a 42 point victory.
Other impressive performances were posted by Coleman, the senior center who has battled injuries throughout his tenure, who showed a short jumper that will elevate his game if he can be consistent. Roberson finished with a double-double, 13 points and 12 rebounds. John Gillon finished with 14 points and freshman Taurean Thompson contributed 12 points.
“It’s just a matter of making the right plays,” Lydon offered. “We have so many weapons on the court at one time.”
The season’s first four games, albeit against inferior foes, has helped the Orange.
“These games have been good,” Boeheim said, noting it will take time for his squad to click. “Now we’re prepared to play some really good teams. It will be really good for this team.”