NEW YORK — A day after Syracuse shot just 35 percent from the field and collected only nine assists against California, the Orange showed marked improvement against Iowa in a 66-63 win in the consolation game of the 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden.
One of the primary reasons for the improvement? Their freshman point guard, Kaleb Joseph.
Joseph scored 13 points and added three assists in Thursday night’s 73-59 loss, but the relatively solid numbers in the box score belied the struggles he had all game. The Orange offense lacked continuity and couldn’t overcome the Bears’ double-digit lead in the second half.
“Initially when I came into the game yesterday, I was a little taken back by everything,” Joseph said, referring to the Cal loss. “But moving forward into the second half, I realized I can’t be a spectator.”
Joseph heeded his own advice against Iowa.
Though he finished with just seven points on 3-10 shooting, Joseph also made a conscious effort to find his teammates more, finishing with eight assists. As a result, the Orange shot 41 percent from the field, a six percent improvement.
“Coach told me he needs me to attack,” Joseph said, “so that’s what I tried to do.”
Of course, there were plenty of learning experiences, even in an improved performance. Joseph turned the ball over four times, and succumbed to Iowa’s 3/4 court trapping scheme late in the second half when Syracuse nearly coughed up its 15-point lead.
“We just made stupid decisions,” Joseph said. “We tried to force the ball up the sideline. In the press, you always want to keep the ball in the middle and attack, so moving forward, it’s still early, something we need to learn from.”
Joseph will likely need to take a lesson on shot selection, as well.
With 43 seconds left and Syracuse up 63-62, Joseph took an ill-advised jump shot from the left elbow with plenty of time left on the shot clock. Iowa corralled the rebound and SU needed to make a defensive stand to preserve the win.
“I got in the lane. I’m not afraid to take a jumpshot,” Joseph said. “No one was guarding me so I took the shot. But moving forward, we can talk about it with coach.”
It doesn’t take a crystal ball to figure out what Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim thought of the shot.
“Kaleb tried to win the game with a jump shot when he really should’ve tried to get it inside to either Chris (McCullough) or Rak (Christmas),” Boeheim said. “But freshmen are going to do that.”
The good news is, the other thing freshmen do is improve rapidly.
Said Joseph: “I have to be out there playing aggressive.”