‘Finding ways to win’ works for now for Syracuse

Syracuse just keeps finding ways to win. How many times will that be the prevailing line of logic before it comes back to bite them? Maybe it’s a sign of how far this program has come that we can find so many faults with a team that is 27-1. But I suspect it has to do with our cynical nature as Syracuse fans after so many recent seasons that have ended in disappointment. Even after a win over a solid South Florida team (didn’t think I’d type that any time soon) it’s tough not to have a sinking feeling that this season could quickly turn into a failure.

» Are you concerned about all of these close games? Discuss.
» Kris Joseph makes the plays of the game against USF

Syracuse was out-rebounded 39-30. They shot under 35-percent from the field and 65-percent from the line. They scored 5 points in the first 10 and a half minutes. 5 points. They trailed 18-5 and couldn’t have looked much worse. Their offense did get better (could it possibly have gotten worse?) but it’s not what won them the game. The best thing that can be said about the Orange’s offense last night was that it didn’t kill them. Like they’ve been doing all season they limited the number of mistakes and turned it over just 9 times. If you needed to give just one stat as to why Syracuse is 27-1 this season it would be this: Not once this season has Syracuse lost the turnover battle.

It was the defense that helped put this game away. It’s okay if the Orange don’t shoot well as long as they force the opponents to do the same. South Florida shot under 40-percent from the field and went 4-for-17 from 3-point range. The main reason for the Bulls’ problems on offense was the man in the middle. I’ve said it before but after a night like last night it bears repeating. Fab Melo is the most important player to this team. He only had 4 points last night but he had 6 blocks and drew 2 charges. But his presence goes well beyond those numbers. He altered many shots right around the rim including breaking up a 2-on-1 in which he defended the passer and then got back to contest a layup.

The tide began to turn when Syracuse implemented a full-court press. It wasn’t just that it forced a few turnovers but it also completely changed the pace of the game. South Florida looked to slow the pace down (as most teams have figured out is the best chance to beat the Orange) and the press forced the Bulls to increase the tempo. What resulted was a 26-0 run and turning a 13-point deficit into a 13-point lead.

And yet, Syracuse couldn’t put South Florida away. The Bulls went on a couple of runs of their own and climbed right back into it. Syracuse was able to close the door thanks largely to the seniors Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine. Joseph didn’t exactly have a great night, hitting just 5-of-17 shots but he was aggressive and converted on a couple of put-backs of his own misses at the end. He showed off some NBA-like moves around the basket as the Orange ran isolation plays for him down the stretch. They didn’t always pay off but he seemed to be making the right decisions.

Maybe this is just a case of playing down to the competition. It’s a long season and it’s not as if these players circled this game on their calendar (even with the debut – and hopefully final appearance – of the platinum jerseys). The win clinches a share of the Big East title and clinches a double-bye in the Big East Tournament.

The team shouldn’t be lacking motivation in the final two games of the regular season. First up, the Orange will travel to UConn where ESPN’s College GameDay will be set up. Then, it’s senior night against a Louisville team that will be looking for revenge after their one-point loss to the Orange earlier in the season. Hopefully the Orange can do more than just find ways to win and can slightly ease the worries of their fans.