It is very hard to win at basketball when you finish off a game by giving up a 17-2 run. That is what Syracuse did and that is why they dropped their second straight game, this one a 69-57 loss at the Carrier Dome to St. John’s that sent the Orange to 5-3 on the season. The last time SU lost three games before December 10 was the 2007-2008 season when they ended up in the NIT.
With just over four minutes left on the clock, led by the scorching-hot Phil Greene IV, the Red Storm (6-1) closed the game by hitting 4-of-6 from the floor, including three shots from three-point range, and then iced the affair by making all six of their free throws in the final 43 seconds. The hot shooting came in a sharp contrast to what St. John’s had done in nearly 16 minutes of second half play, as they totaled only 20 points and made a mere 5-of-18 field goals before their closing rush.
Syracuse once again struggled from the perimeter, making only three three-pointers on 22 attempts. It was the seventh time in eight games this season that the Orange failed to make 28 percent of their shots from beyond the arc. The shoddy marksmanship from long distance offset SU’s strong performance in the paint, where they held a 32-12 scoring advantage.
St. John’s opened the game with a patient possession that netted a three-pointer. The Orange had a slow start, not getting on the board until nearly three minutes were gone when Michael Gbinije, who was making his first collegiate start, knocked down a floater in the lane. The Red Storm added a lay-up, then buried another trey after a pair of Syracuse free throws to make it an 8-4 game with less than five minutes elapsed.
Gbinije then triggered a run of nine straight points for SU, setting up a lay-in by Rakeem Christmas and a Chris McCullough dunk around his own three-pointer. Christmas stole the ball from St. John’s, then closed the run by knocking down a short jumper off a spin move. The burst had Syracuse in front, 13-8, less than seven minutes into the game.
The Red Storm ended the run with a bucket, then chased a McCullough score with two more inside baskets, clipping the Orange lead to 15-14. Syracuse came back with a pair of scores when Gbinije rattled home a jumper, then Christmas took a high-low entry pass from McCullough and dunked to extend their lead to five.
St. John’s struck back by snipping the lead down to a single point, but Trevor Cooney pulled up from the foul like to bury a jump shot for SU. After subbing into the game for the Orange amid a pair of Red Storm free throws, B.J. Johnson made a quick impact on the game. Johnson collected an offensive rebound and knocked down a short jumper, then missed a three on the next SU possession, but cut to the bucket for a lay-up off a pass from Christmas after the center snared the rebound. The two scores put Syracuse up with just under five minutes left in the half, 25-20.
The Red Storm owned the remains of the first half, outscoring SU by a 12-3 margin. D’Angelo Harrison knocked down a pair of threes in the run, as well as two free throws when Gbinije fouled him with St. John’s in the bonus with 2.6 seconds left in the half. The closing run gave them a 32-28 lead at halftime.
Kaleb Joseph started the second half with a jolt, burying a three to pull the Orange within a single point. The Red Storm matched the triple on their possession, but Christmas split a double-team to pull SU within 35-33. St. John’s stretched their lead to five, but Joseph found Gbinije on a baseline cut for a two-handed dunk to get Syracuse back to 39-36.
St. John’s got a pair of foul shots, then a fast break score on an emphatic putback slam. The two teams each scored on their next three trips. The Orange got their second score when Gbinije drove baseline past shotblocker Chris Obekpa and sank a nifty reverse lay-up, while the third Red Storm tally was a long, banked-in three-pointer that gave them a 50-42 lead just over seven minutes into the half.
Ron Patterson responded for Syracuse by drilling a three-pointer. Cooney missed a three on the next possession, then hoisted another one that connected in transition on the next trip downcourt, but a foul on Christmas was whistled before the shot went up. Patterson missed from deep on the next SU possession, but Christmas grabbed the ball and scored.
McCullough buried a baseline jumper to get SU within one, then swatted Obekpa’s dunk on the ensuing Red Storm possession. The Red Storm converted that possession into a free throw, but two trips later, Patterson found McCullough in transition for a vicious alley-oop dunk over Obekpa to tie the game with under eight-and-a half minutes to play.
St. John’s got a free throw to break up the Orange run, but Gbinije canned an 18-foot stepback jumper for the first Syracuse lead of the half at 53-52. McCullough followed that with a steal and pushed the ball downcourt, but received a hard foul that sent him to the hardwood. A scuffle broke out, but the teams and officials were able to get everyone split up quickly.
After a review resulted in a flagrant one foul call, McCullough made one free throw. With their subsequent possession, the Orange did not score, but Christmas added a free throw on the next SU trip. All told, it was a 13-2 run for Syracuse and they held a 55-52 lead with 5:34 on the clock.
Then Phil Greene IV took over the game for St. John’s.
Greene IV buried a three-pointer to wipe out the lead, then Patterson missed treys on the next two SU possessions, the latter coming on an airball with the shot clock winding down. Greene IV drilled another triple, then made a steal and took it the distance for a lay-up and a 60-55 Red Storm lead.
The Orange shaved down the lead when Cooney came up with a loose ball and led Patterson for a dunk, but Greene IV hit his third three-pointer in just over three minutes, this one giving the visitors a 63-57 lead with under a minute remaining.
Gbinije drove the lane, but Obekpa blocked his shot. The Orange had no choice to foul and St. John’s made them pay. The Red Storm drained six foul shots in the final 43 seconds to close the scoring.
Rakeem Christmas posted a strong double-double of 15 points and 15 rebounds, including six on the offensive end. Christmas, who also blocked three shots in the game, almost had that double-double by halftime, posting eight points and ten boards in the first half. Chris McCullough played well on both ends, finishing with 13 points, eight rebounds, three blocks, and three steals. Michael Gbinije had his second straight strong all-around game, posting 13 points, five rebounds, and five assists.
D’Angelo Harrison topped all scorers with 24 points for St. John’s, including a 4-of-6 shooting effort from three-point range. Phil Greene IV finished with 18 points, including four threes of his own, and racked up 13 points in the game’s final 4:06. Rysheed Jordan chipped in with 11 points off the bench and Sir’Dominic Pointer chipped in with nine points and three blocks. Chris Obekpa hauled in 16 boards and blocked four Orange shots.
SU is off until Sunday, December 14 when Louisiana Tech will visit the Carrier Dome. The Bulldogs sport a gaudy 7-1 record on the season, but have played one of the weakest schedules in the country, having beaten up a series of small schools and losing to their strongest opponent, Temple. Louisiana Tech will host Louisiana-Lafayette on Wednesday prior to backing their bags for Syracuse.
The Orange will tip off against the Bulldogs at 4:00pm Eastern and ESPNU will televise the game.