Fab Melo is playing his best basketball of the season. Not so coincidentally, so is the Orange.
Melo scored a career-high 12 points, including several clutch baskets in the finals minutes, as No. 11 Syracuse advanced to the semifinals of the Big East tournament by defeating No. 18 St. John’s, 79-73. The Orange has now won six straight games dating back to a Feb. 14 win over West Virginia.
How the game was won: The game was back-and-forth throughout, and was all tied at 68 after a Sean Evans free throw with 2:25 left. That’s when Brandon Triche and Melo took over. Triche found Melo for an layup to give Syracuse a two point lead. A few possessions later, Triche again drove and found a streaking Melo on the left block. Melo pumped faked to draw the St. John’s defender in the air, and then went up for a reverse layup that gave Syracuse a four point lead with 31 seconds left. Triche would hit another four free throws to close the game.
It was sweet redemption for the much-aligned Melo, who has struggled significantly throughout the season, averaging just 2.2 points and 1.8 rebounds per game. Melo has shown signs that he can live up to the Preseason Big East Freshman of the Year honors in the past two games. Against DePaul, Melo scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds as the Orange crushed the Blue Demons 107-59 on Saturday. But St. John’s is a more formidable opponent, and Melo played all of the crunch-time minutes, adding four rebounds and two blocks on top of his 12 points.
But it couldn’t have happened without Triche, who poured in a team-high 22 points, including 4-for-10 shooting from downtown. Triche was active in all phases of the game, adding six rebounds and five assists, including the final two passes to Melo that sealed the game. The game was also a bit of redemption for Triche, who as a freshman struggled in the quarterfinals of the 2010 Big East tournament in a 91-84 loss to Georgetown. Triche played 18 minutes in that game, and scored just two points. But Triche showed what a difference a year makes. He also went 8-for-8 from the free throw line, extending his consecutive made streak to 37, an SU record.
Quote to note: “Having the 10 days of practice we had, I think those practices were huge for him. He’s really worked hard in practice. He made some really huge plays out there.” – Jim Boeheim during his post game press conference in reference to Melo’s performance.
Star gazing: For the Red Storm, it was guard Dwight Hardy. He was instrumental in breaking down Syracuse’s zone, and had 22 points and four rebounds before fouling out.
Injury front: More concerning than the loss to Syracuse for St. John’s is the loss to its starting guard, D.J. Kennedy. Kennedy appeared to twist his right knee on a drive to the basket early in the first half and immediately summoned to the bench for a trainer. He needed to be helped off the court by teammates, and couldn’t put any pressure on that knee. No word yet to his injury, but the loss of the Red Storm’s third leading scorer at 10.7 points per game has the potential to be a devastating loss.
What’s next: The Orange will face ninth-seeded Connecticut in the semifinals on Friday night after the Huskies upset top-seeded Pittsburgh 76-74. It was a brillant finish, as Kemba Walker beat the buzzer to win it. That sets up a rematch of the 2009 quarterfinals, where the Orange outlasted Connecticut in an epic 127-117, six-overtime victory.