CJ Fair knew exactly what to do with the ball.
Fair had just stolen the ball from Liam McCabe-Moran and caught James Southerland racing down the floor out of the corner of his eye. Moments later, Southerland threw down a vicious alley-oop dunk, one of many highlights from Syracuse’s lopsided 92-56 win over Manhattan.
“I always look to get up the floor and I think I jump pretty high,” Southerland said to reporters following the game. “No matter who throws it to me, it is going to be pretty exciting.”
But Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is even more excited about the prospect of Southerland becoming more consistent this season. Southerland finished with 15 points and six rebounds against the Jaspers after a seven point, four rebound performance against Fordham in SU’s season opener.
With rebounding stalwart Rick Jackson gone and a young front line that includes sophomore Fab Melo and freshman Rakeem Christmas, Southerland can be a spark off the bench.
“James has been really good, he was really good tonight,” Boeheim said. “But he was good the other night too. If you look at the stat sheet, it looks better. But I just thought he was good and moved to the right places.”
Southerland had an inconsistent season for Syracuse last year, averaging 4.9 points in 14.1 minutes a game.
The junior started the season out of the rotation, but quickly became a key player after Kris Joseph suffered a concussion during the middle of the season.
Southerland started for the first time in his career in place of Joseph, while playing a career high 38 minutes against Pittsburgh on Jan. 17. A little more than a month later, he scored nine points in an upset of then-No. 11 Georgetown.
But by the end of the season, Southerland was again buried at the end of Boeheim’s bench.
Now, Southerland understands what is needed to stay in the rotation.
“Playing aggressive, working on rebounding, and being consistent,” Southerland said. “Consistency is a big thing. You have to stay focused. When you stay focused, everything comes into place.”
So far, it seems to have worked.
“I feel like I did a good job, looking at the stat sheets,” Southerland said. “Staying active is when you do a lot of things, whether it is a block, assist, or rebound.”