With each passing game, Syracuse’s inability to make perimeter shots becomes a greater concern. Fortunately for the Orange (5-1), their failure to connect on any of their 14 three-point attempts did not hurt them, as they handled an undersized Holy Cross team at the Carrier Dome on Friday night, 72-48. SU shot nearly 62 percent inside the arc against the Crusaders (3-1), led by Rakeem Christmas and Chris McCullough, who combined to knock down 15-of-21 shots from the floor.
In addition to their dominant performance inside (SU finished with advantages of 50-30 in rebounding and a 42-16 in points in the paint), Syracuse also held Holy Cross to only 26.8 percent shooting from the field, including a 6-for-30 (20 percent) performance in the first half. For the second straight outing, the Orange were down a starter as Tyler Roberson sat out with an abdominal strain, his place in the starting lineup once again filled by B.J. Johnson.
After the Crusaders scored to open the game, Rakeem Christmas set the pace by doing what he would do throughout the game – make shots. Christmas piled up the first six Orange points on a pair of free throws, a jump hook, and a nifty spin move.
Holy Cross shot poorly out of the gate, making only 2-of 11 from the field to start. They did, however, warm up enough to take a 7-6 lead with just over six minutes off the clock when they got a three-point play when Christmas committed his second foul.
With Christmas on the bench, his teammates picked up the offensive slack. B.J. Johnson punctuated an aggressive drive with a lefty dunk, then Kaleb Joseph went coast-to-coast before banking in a shot for a 10-7 lead.
Holy Cross cut the lead to a single point, but the Orange responded with ten straight points. Chris McCullough highlighted the run with a putback dunk of a Johnson miss. The Crusaders got a free throw to stop the burst, but Christmas returned to the game and contributed a pair of putbacks to make it 24-10 with under six to play in the first half.
Holy Cross knocked down a three, but SU needed just over 90 seconds to post an 8-0 burst. McCullough played a big part in the burst, blocking a shot on defense before finishing the ensuing possession by knocking down a 16-foot baseline jumper on offense, then collecting an easy pass from Christmas for a two-handed slam. The run put Syracuse in front by a 32-13 margin with less than three minutes left in the opening half.
Late in the half, Trevor Cooney completed a three-point-play, then came up with a loose ball and hit Joseph with an outlet pass. The freshman point guard dropped in a reverse lay-up to give the Orange a 39-17 halftime lead.
Holy Cross turned the tables in the first eight minutes of the second half. The Crusaders forced five SU turnovers and made 7-of-8 shots from the floor as they sliced into the deficit. When the visitors got four free throws to make it a 20-9 run to start the second half, the Orange lead was down to 48-37 with 12:27 on the clock.
After McCullough hit another baseline jumper to stop the bleeding, Christmas put two pairs of free throws around jam where he beat every Crusader down the court to make it eight straight points for the Orange. The run righted the ship and had Syracuse back in front by 19 points with just over nine minutes on the clock.
Holy Cross got back within 16 points, but SU responded with six straight points, capped by a Christmas dunk, for a 62-40 lead. At the next stoppage of play, Christmas left the game for good, signaling the Orange had the contest in hand.
Joseph would make a steal and three-point-play to nudge the SU lead to 22 points, then Michael Gbinije would later make a steal and turn it into a dunk for the game’s final points before Jim Boeheim cleared his bench for the final 1:22 of the game.
As he had already done earlier this year, Rakeem Christmas established a career high in points in the game, leading all scorers with 25, including 14 in the opening half. Christmas made 8-of-10 field goals and 9-of-10 free throws while blocking three shots on defense. Chris McCullough logged another double-double with over nine minutes left in the game and finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds, 11 coming on the defensive end. Kaleb Joseph had a solid all-around game, tallying 14 points, seven boards, and six assists.
Malcolm Miller paced Holy Cross with 18 points, including ringing up 15 in the second half. Anthony Thompson and Justin Burrell supported the Crusaders’ cause with eight and seven points, respectively.
The Orange will take on the season’s first ranked foe in their next game and will also be looking for a little measure of revenge at the same time. As part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, SU will travel to Ann Arbor to take on #19 Michigan (4-1) on Tuesday. The last time the two schools met on the hardwood was in the 2013 Final Four, where the Wolverines eliminated Syracuse, 61-56.
Michigan has one little detail to take care of before hosting the Orange, as they will host Nicholls State on Saturday afternoon. The Wolverines, whose lone loss came at the hands of #12 Villanova on Tuesday, are led by Zak Irvin, Caris LeVert, and Derrick Walton, Jr., who collectively average over 48 points per outing.
Tuesday’s tip-off is set for 7:30pm Eastern with television coverage on ESPN. The game will also be available online at ESPN3.com.