Another Ugly Win for the Orange

Lackluster first half performance. Offensive struggles. Much better second half performance. Another ugly win. Syracuse managed to pull out a 53-50 win over Michigan to advance to the finals of the Legends Classic. But it’s just a matter of time before this Syracuse team disappoints and drops a few games.

The first half was pretty dreadful for both teams. It was a slow, methodical game but neither team was making many shots. The Wolverines took the lead into halftime, 31-29 because they were exerting more effort. They out-rebounded the much bigger Orange 23-17 including 10 offensive rebounds. Michigan also started out strong from three-point range, hitting 5 of their first 11 attempts.

The Orange brought the effort in the second half but didn’t bring the offense. They held Michigan to just one offensive rebound and out-rebounded them 22-14 after the break. They clamped down on the three-point shooting as well. After that 5-for-11 start, Michigan hit just 3 of 21, including 2 of 12 in the second half.

There were moments that seemed like Syracuse was going to blow this game open but they struggled shooting the ball. They did go on a 9-0 run to take the lead 38-33 early in the second but that run was mainly from defense leading to offense. They were (as always) at their best when they get out in transition. But their offense stalled in the halfcourt set and they had over a 6 minute stretch where they didn’t score a single point and Michigan led 45-44 with under 6 minutes remaining.

But their offense did just enough. They made an adjustment at halftime to attack the rim. Michigan had committed just four fouls with 10 seconds remaining in the first half. In the second, Syracuse forced the issue and got in the bonus with 7:15 remaining in the game. But here’s a shocker for you – they couldn’t hit their free throws. They missed the front end of two 1-and-1s and hit just 8 of their 15 free throws. The only thing that really kept them in this game was Kris Joseph.

Joseph is supposed to be the star of this team but he had struggled through their first four games. He was hitting just over 30% of his shots and had hit on just 2 of 14 three-pointers. Last night he finally had the game Boeheim and the Orange were waiting for. He hit 8 of his 14 shots, including 3 of 6 from downtown and finished with 22 points. But those numbers don’t do his performance justice. He scored those points in just about every way possible. He got some free throws, knocked down spot-up threes, threes off the dribble, mid-range jumpers, and offensive put backs. He showed his full range and he can still play better – at least that’s what Boeheim said after the game.

That, and the win were about the lone bright spots in this game. The 53 points is the lowest in a win since they defeated Pitt in 2004, 49-43. Amazingly, that was an OT win. More amazingly? They pretty much won that game from the free throw line. But back to this season. Their No. 10 ranking is completely undeserved. If they had come into the season unranked, they would still be unranked. The voters just haven’t seen this team play. They have all the potential and I believe they will become a much better team. But right now they aren’t one of the top 25 teams in the nation, despite that 5-0 mark.

-It looks like Boeheim might have found the 7 players he will play all season – as per usual. Last night Boeheim had his tightest rotation of the season. He played 9 guys but two of them played under 5 minutes. Off the bench it was Dion Waiters (17 minutes), CJ Fair (10 minutes) and Baye Moussa Keita (26 minutes). Mookie Jones didn’t crack the rotation and James Southerland played just 5 minutes.
-The other player under 5 minutes was All-American Fab Melo. Melo started the game but was pulled less than 4 minutes into the game after he got scored on multiple times by Jordan Morgan. Seth Davis was an analyst during the game and he was surprised Boeheim pulled him for the entire game. What is he supposed to do though? Melo is a liability out there and Syracuse never had a comfortable lead to where he could re-insert him in the game. Moussa Keita played great in his place. The best part of the Melo benching was he sat right next to Boeheim the whole game and listened to the coach. I’m sure he wanted to get back in the game but he never showed his frustration.
-Some might consider this tournament in Atlantic City practically home games for the Orange. While the crowd was definitely wearing more orange than usual, no one is going to mistake this venue for the Carrier Dome. Through the majority of the game you could hear crickets. It really makes you appreciate college crowds who will get into games no matter how awful the teams are playing.

Robbie Gillies is a senior columnist at The Juice Online. He is also an editor at Real Clear Sports. See more at