I know all of the focus on this game was about what Jim Boeheim would say in his press conference afterwards but I’d like to focus on the game first and I’ll address the press conference at the end.
If Eastern Michigan’s plan was to cover the spread (just under 30 points) and hold the Orange to their lowest total of the season than they were well on their way with about 11 minutes remaining in this contest. Despite being down by nearly 20 points, the Eagles were resigned to use just about all of the 35 seconds on the shot clock on their offensive possessions. It’s a good strategy against Syracuse if games are close but it seemed like Eastern Michigan ceded the fact that they were overmatched and looked to keep it as close as possible. Syracuse’s depth was too much though and the Orange outscored the Eagles 31-13 to close it out to the tune of 84-48.
Syracuse again opened up in man-to-man defense and again struggled. They stayed man for about the first 10 minutes and are still having trouble working switches and guarding off of the ball. These problems led to too many open shots as the Eagles made 3 of their first 4 three-point attempts.
I don’t know how many times I’ve said this but how does a team that plays almost exclusively 2-3 zone defense struggle so mightily against 2-3 zone defense? They tried to go over the zone a few times but could only connect on one of three alley-oop attempts and other than that they were content to slowly work it around the perimeter. The first time they even attempted to get it into a big man in the post (not on an alley-oop) came with 6:41 remaining in the first half and that was on an inbounds pass. It’s times like these that make you realize how important Rick Jackson was last year. Kris Joseph might be the go-to scorer but he’s not going to shoot 59 percent from the field like Jackson did last season. Jackson could always bust them out of a slump with offensive put backs or a quick post up move. Who on the Orange can consistently score in the post? Right now the answer is nobody.
But, as seems to be the M.O. of this club, Syracuse turned it on in the 2nd half. Why has it taken them about 30 minutes to get going in the past 3 games? If someone has that answer give Boeheim a call (make sure to let him know you’re not calling to talk about Fine). Part of it might have to do with wearing the opposition down. EMU definitely couldn’t continue the type of defensive pressure they had in the first half just as Virginia Tech and Stanford couldn’t in MSG. But it can’t just be the opponent. In the 2nd half of the past 3 games the ball movement has been decidedly better and so has guard penetration. Both Scoop Jardine and Dion Waiters did well by penetrating and feeding the open guy. This is another way to get the interior guys more involved without specifically running plays for them. What was most impressive about the offense though, was how they protected the ball. They had 4 turnovers in the first half and just 2 after the break.
Once again Boeheim opened back up the rotation and the biggest beneficiary was James Southerland. Southerland tallied 19 minutes and led the team in scoring with 19 points. Can he do it against a team like Florida? First we’ll have to see if he is given the opportunity. One of the reasons he got so much playing time and did so well in this game was he was facing zone defense. This allowed him to spot up and knock down 3 of his 6 three-point attempts. One of the biggest question marks in my head about him is can he dribble? In the first half he managed to poke the ball away at about midcourt and without dribbling grabbed it and went for the dunk before getting fouled. It was an impressive feat but it reminded me how I can’t remember a single time he created his own shot while dribbling.
In addition to Southerland’s increased minutes, Rakeem Christmas saw a career-high 23 minutes of action. He showed promise patrolling the baseline on offense and defense and provided the highlight of the night when he slammed home an alley-oop from Scoop while his defender tried to hold him down.
As for the postgame press conference, yes, Boeheim was pleased to see Rob Murphy again. He had high praise for the former assistant saying, “He was unbelievable for us, what he brought to the table for us over the years as a coach and as a recruiter.” And thus the long national story of how Boeheim would react to Murphy coming back to Syracuse comes to an end. Now the team can move on and focus on Florida.
It returns! It took a brief hiatus with the past couple of games being a little too close to warrant Mookie time.
Entered the game at: 3:58
First shot: 2:46 (made 3-pointer)
Time elapsed: 72 seconds