The Syracuse Orange must quickly put the narrow four-point loss to the Miami Hurricanes in the rear view mirror and prepare for Monday’s clash with the North Carolina Tar Heels before heading into the challenging second half of the ACC schedule.
While SU held its lone lead after Rakeem Christmas made one of two free throws to start the game, the inability to make their foul shots against a physical Hurricanes team, ultimately doomed any opportunity for an Orange victory in front of more than 30,000 at the Carrier Dome..
“This game came down to making the free throws,” Coach Jim Boeheim offered. ”You have to make the free throws in those situations.”
Following a trend that has become a common theme for this year’s squad, the Orange struggled at the charity stripe, misfiring on 11 while connecting at a 42 percent clip. Christmas, who was held to 5 points in the first half, finished with 23 points but was only 45 percent from the line. Michael Gbinije missed crucial shots at the line down the stretch as well.
Christmas was held in check early by Miami’s front court, notably 7-footer Tonje Jekiri. The senior center then led SU on a second half run that fell just short.
“We did everything we could to get back in it,” reasoned Boeheim, whose squad erased two double-digit deficits against the Hurricanes, who recently handled Duke in front of the Cameron Crazies. “We battled hard and played as well as we could.”
Tyler Roberson carried the team in the first half, with eight points and grabbing eight boards. He finished with 10 points and 14 rebounds.
“In this game, we played more than well enough to win,” Boeheim added. “We make the free throws, we win this game. That’s what it is. It’s that simple.”
Trevor Cooney drew praise from his coach for his play. For the game, Cooney connected on 3-9 from 3-point range, finishing with 14 points.
Every starter played the full 40 minutes except freshman point guard Kaleb Joseph, who split time with sophomore Ron Patterson.
As disappointing the loss was to Orange faithful, Boeheim stayed his course and would not discuss his team’s post season prognosis, instead focusing on the next game.
“We don’t talk postseason around here,” he said. “We play the next game.”
There’s a lot of season to play, starting with the visit to the 15th-ranked Tar Heels, who beat Florida State on Saturday. The Orange will return home on Feb. 3 for a clash with Virginia Tech. SU topped the Hokies, 68-66, to kick off the ACC season in early January.
Boeheim never speculates about the tournament and scoffed at the idea that his team is destined for the post season.