In most rock fights, no one really wins. On Monday night, #9 Syracuse barely did, escaping St. Francis (Brooklyn) at the Carrier Dome by scoring the game’s final ten points for a 56-50 victory in the opening game of the EA Sports Maui Invitational.
The Orange moved to 4-0 on the season with the win, but submitted an effort that was far from perfect. SU made five field goals in the second half as they trailed most of the final 20 minutes. The Terriers (2-2) were undersized, but lived up to their mascot by holding Syracuse to a 35.3 percent effort from the field.
After a quick bucket by DaJuan Coleman to start the game, the Orange offense stalled, allowing St. Francis to grab a 5-2 lead. Coleman continued his assertive play, scoring the next six points, including a nifty drive to the bucket, to jumpstart a 10-0 run for SU. The Terriers scored five of the game’s next seven points to trim the margin to 14-10 in favor of Syracuse.
The Orange extended their lead to eight points on three occasions, but five straight points clipped the margin to three in favor of the hosts, then a three-point-play put the Terriers within 24-22 coming out of the under-four media timeout.
Shortly after the break, Michael Gbinije snapped an offensive drought for SU, zipping a crosscourt pass to Trevor Cooney, who nailed a corner three while getting fouled. The charity shot put Syracuse ahead, 28-22, with just over two minutes left in the opening half. St. Francis closed the margin to 30-26 before the buzzer.
The Terriers had their way with things coming out of the break, not allowing the Orange a field goal while going on a 9-2 run to grab a 35-32 lead. Cooney hit a three to knot it up, but St. Francis scored four more points to regain control six minutes into the half.
Syracuse tied the score at 40 on a Tyler Ennis lay-up just past the midpoint of the half, but that would be the last SU basket for eight minutes. St. Francis got a three-pointer and a three-point-play to regain their four-point margin, but Gbinije and Baye Moussa Keita both knocked down a pair of free throws to make it 46 a side with just over five minutes left.
The Terriers responded with a three-pointer that quieted the Carrier Dome crowd, then added a free throw for a 50-46 lead with just over four minutes on the clock. The Orange defense went into lockdown mode, forcing four turnovers and three missed shots the rest of the way.
Cooney and C.J. Fair each put in a free throw to help SU claw within two points, then Jerami Grant tied the score with a follow-up of a Fair miss and less than 90 seconds on the clock. On the next Terrier possession, Grant simply ripped the ball away from a St. Francis player and passed to Gbinije, who converted a lay-up that gave the Orange a 52-50 lead that sent the crowd into hysterics.
Gbinije was not done, coming up with a loose ball on the next possession. Grant, who was 3-of-7 at the line to that point, was fouled, but coolly made both shots at the line to extend the Syracuse lead to four. St. Francis missed a three and following another foul, Fair made a pair of free throws to ice the win.
DaJuan Coleman started strong with ten points and five rebounds in the first eight minutes before finishing with 14 points and six boards, five of them on offense. Jerami Grant added 13 points and a team-high eight rebounds while Trevor Cooney chipped in with a dozen points and three steals.
Jalen Cannon was a thorn in the side of the Orange most of the night, topping all players with 16 points and collecting eight rebounds. Wayne Martin added 13 points off the bench for the Terriers and Anthony White chipped in with ten.
Syracuse will head off the mainland for their next three contests as they continue in the Maui Invitational. SU will start a set of three games in as many days against Minnesota on next Monday.
The Golden Gophers have opened their season with three wins and have contests against Coastal Carolina and Wofford this week before heading to Hawaii. Junior Andre Hollins leads the team with a 22.7 point per game average on the season. Also in double figures are Joey King, who averages 13 points per game, and Austin Hollins, who is posting marks of 11 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. Elliott Eliason averages 11.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game for the Golden Gophers.
The game will get underway at 5:30pm Eastern and will be televised on ESPN2.