Big win on the court, big apology off of it

Syracuse fans got what they wanted on and off the court last night. I haven’t addressed the entire scandal because there are enough people spouting their opinions. I’ve sat back and read them all. I’ve read the daily rumors, the calls for Jim Boeheim’s head, the questions about ESPN’s integrity.

It’s a lot to take in and I’ve taken solace in the actual basketball games and focused on the on-court action instead of the circus off the court. But I was a little upset after Boeheim’s comments after the Eastern Michigan game on Tuesday. He opened up with a joke, read a prepared statement (often waving it at reporters in response to any further questions) and was a bit too flippant given the sensitive subject.

Many people were upset he spoke so long and answered so many questions but I found that refreshing. It’s not often we get real answers instead of a speech written by lawyers and PR men. But it still wasn’t enough and wasn’t the right tone. Last night, Boeheim came out and made a sincere apology.

He read a statement and then continued to express how sorry he was and that he will do even more than he already does to help children. Boeheim wears his heart on his sleeve and always speaks his mind. It took him awhile to fully come to terms with the scope of this scandal but once he did you could see how much it has weighed on him. His words and emotions came a few days late but they finally came out and that’s the most important part. Now on to less serious things…

If defense indeed does win championships, the Orange have a great chance to go all the way. Last night’s victory over the No. 9 Gators was generated with staunch defense mixed with a dose of good Scoop Jardine.

Florida came into the game averaging 91 points per game but made the choice to play a slow-paced game. Billy Donovan was afraid of allowing the Orange fast break opportunities and thought his team would have a better chance in the half court set. But even at a slower pace the Orange were able to score in transition. They forced 20 turnovers and the Gators’ inability to hit from 3-point range allowed for long rebounds as well.

Florida came into the game shooting 43-percent from distance but finished just 9-of-26 last night. The 2-3 zone looked more active than it had all year and allowed very few open looks. Only a couple times was Florida able to catch, set and fire up a 3 that wasn’t from NBA range. The rotation was fantastic and they got their hands on a lot of passes.

Even when Florida penetrated, Fab Melo was there to meet them. Although he only had one block, he was a key component to holding Patric Young to just 6 points.

The hero of the night though, was Scoop. In the final 10 minutes, he went 4-for-5 for 12 points, had 2 assists, 3 steals and even had a block. He was fantastic. He deserves the praise he’s getting for his performance but he’s still the player that drives many Orange fans crazy. Let’s examine some of the plays he made down the stretch:
-9:45 – Drives to the lane and hits an 8-foot floater in the lane. This is the type of play Scoop makes all the time.
-8:50 – Intercepts the inbounds pass and feeds Kris Joseph for the huge dunk. Again, typical Scoop. He steals those inbounds passes 5-10 times a year.
-6:25 – Gets his hands on a ball and takes it coast-to-coast despite defenders on either side of him. A dicey decision that fans would’ve questioned had he missed.
-5:25 – Kris Joseph left him out to dry and dished it to him at the top of the key with 6 seconds. He throws up a deep floater that goes in. It definitely wouldn’t have been his fault had he missed but you hope he doesn’t take that shot too often.
3:55 – With 27 seconds left on the shot clock he puts up a 3-pointer with a defender right in his face. If that’s a miss, Boeheim gives him a long hard glare.
2:40 – With 32 seconds left on the shot clock and Syracuse up 58-53, he drives to the basket a bit out of control and draws a blocking foul. If the defender doesn’t slide in that’s a miss and Florida can make it a one possession game.
:55 – He swats at the shot as the guy he’s guarding goes by him and blocks it. If he hits some hand fans are wondering why he gambled and put a good free throw shooter to the line.

This isn’t to diminish what Scoop did. He was unbelievable. But the people that are praising him now better not be the same ones that call for Waiters to replace him when some of these types of decisions don’t go his way.

Somewhat lost in Scoop’s heroics was the consistency of Brandon Triche. Triche actually led the Orange with 20 points and he knocked down all 9 of his free throws. Triche is shooting over 80 percent from the line whereas Scoop is shooting 43 percent. Who do you think is going to get the ball late in games?

It wasn’t all good for the Orange though. They continue to struggle in the half court offense. Early in the game they moved the ball through the post and Melo produced with 7 points in the first half. They seemed to move away from this in the second and relied on their outside shooting and their outside shooting was atrocious. They hit on just 3-of-17 three-pointers and shot just 41-percent from the field. It’s pretty incredible they managed to win with those type of numbers but it’s a testament to this team’s defense. They made Florida work for everything they got.

This was the marquee game on the Orange’s schedule. They have no other strong out of conference games this season and these are the games that could make a difference in seeding come tournament time. More importantly though, Syracuse looked better than they have all year and if their defense plays at that level they can beat anyone in the country.