Last night’s matchup against North Carolina State was lackluster at best. Syracuse shot only 35.2 percent from the field in the last-minute victory over the Wolfpack.
While both C.J. Fair and Tyler Ennis failed to shine, it was the quiet Rakeem Christmas who delivered a monster game that helped lift Syracuse to victory. The junior center from Philadelphia, Pa. finished the game with nearly a triple-double: 14 points, 12 rebounds and seven blocks.
Even head coach Jim Boeheim was impressed by Christmas’ performance.
“I thought he was good the whole game. He’s learning to stay out of foul trouble and made a couple blocks out there,” he offered. “He was really the difference in the game—made his free throws. All those free throws he took and made were crucial.”
While Christmas has displayed a solid game in recent matchups, he knew that he had to step up last night.
“I really just tried to get up on the post and be more aggressive offensively,” he explained. “My teammates have all done a great job all year and we all need to step up.”
In Baye Moussa Keita’s absence, Christmas has received more playing time in both the games and practice—which he is using to his advantage. The junior emphasized just how important the confidence factor has been for his recent improvement.
“I’ve been getting confident in practice and that’s carrying over to the games,” he elaborated. Christmas does not want to stay stagnant in his play; but rather, he plans on expanding his skill set as the season progresses. “From here on out, I’m going to try and keep having games like this one,” he asserted.
Teammate Tyler Ennis is thrilled to see Christmas’ development, and he spoke highly of the 6’9” center. “I think he’s producing a lot more—both defensively and offensively he can contribute,” the freshman guard observed.
Aside from his impressive overall statistics, Christmas also had a key role in the game-winning play down the stretch. With the Orange down by one with only seconds left to play, Boeheim called for an aggressive trap down low. When North Carolina State threw the ball away, it went right into the hands of Christmas. As the clock ticked down, he pushed the ball to Ennis, who found C.J. Fair for the fast-break layup.
Fair, who muscled in the game-winning layup, credited Christmas with the win.
“He played great and his game is getting better. He is an important aspect of our team and when he plays like this, it gives us that edge over our opponents,” the senior forward said. “If he doesn’t play the way he did tonight, we don’t win.”
The win against North Carolina State is just the latest in Syracuse’s 25-0 streak—the best start in school history.
“I mean, we don’t really think about it, we don’t talk about it,” Christmas revealed. “We just go in there and try to have fun and play our game.”