Freshmen centers Fab Melo and Baye Moussa Keita have frequently been bypassed this season in favor of playing Rick Jackson in the pivot position.
But during Saturday’s 58-51 victory against Georgetown, the two combined for 20 minutes of action. Keita had one rebound in 13 minutes of play, while Melo had a rebound and two points on an alley-oop from Scoop Jardine in transition in his seven minutes.
It was the first time Melo played more than five minutes since Syracuse’s 72-49 win against South Florida on Feb. 9. It may be a sign of things to come as Syracuse heads into championship season.
“We’ve got to play the bigger lineup some of the time and get size in there,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “Both guys are key for us as we go forward at the end of the year in order for us to be some place.”
Keita has been a pleasant surprise for SU this season and has ended up starting the last five games after being initially looked at as a project heading into this season. He’s played a little more than 11 minutes per game during that stretch.
In that same period of time, Melo has struggled significantly. He didn’t appear in games against Louisville and West Virginia on Feb. 12 and 14.
Melo then made a brief appearance against Rutgers on Feb. 19 and collected a foul in four seconds of play. Boeheim benched him for the rest of the game.
“I made a mistake,” Boeheim said during his post-game press conference, following that game. “I shouldn’t have put Fab (Melo) in that situation.”
Some of Melo’s problems this season stemmed from an Achilles injury he suffered early on in the year. It kept him from practicing, and as a result, left Melo out of shape as the season was already well underway.
“He could not get back down the court after about a minute and 10 seconds in,” Boeheim said during his press conference following SU’s 90-68 loss to Seton Hall on Jan. 8. “When he can get there he can make plays, but he cannot get there at the pace that these games are played at.”
That wasn’t the case on Saturday, as Melo was very effective during his stint in the game.
“This was a tough situation to put them in, but that’s what we’re going to be in going down the road,” Boeheim said. “They need to be in that situation.”
Syracuse hopes that its freshmen center duo is up to the task.
“Coach gave me opportunity to go there and play, and I played as hard as I could,” Melo said. “I’m happy to help the team.”
Brad Bierman contributed to this report.