It’s safe to say this year’s Syracuse squad will continue to be a work in progress.
In the final tune-up before the start of the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule, the Orange outlasted Texas Southern, 80-67, in a Sunday afternoon clash that was much closer than anyone anticipated.
The Tigers, with only one victory this season and coming off two consecutive NCAA appearances, looked confident against SU’s zone defense in the early going.
Time and again, the Tigers connected from beyond the 3-point arc while bullying the taller Orange on the boards.
SU still managed to take a 10-point lead at the half, mainly behind Michael Gbinije’s 13 points.
The Orange led by 21 points in the second half with just over four minutes remaining before the Tigers went on an 11-3 run to close out the game.
Mike Hopkins, looking more comfortable in his current role while Coach Jim Boeheim is banned from the program, admitted in his post game press conference that the team must quickly get more consistent as the ultra-competitive ACC begins play this week.
“(Texas Southern) came in prepared and they competed,” Hopkins said about the road-weary Tigers from the Southwestern Athletic Conference. “They gave us a great game.”
It should be noted the visitors have yet to play one home game this season.
While Gbinije led a balanced scoring attack—there were five in double figures- the interim head coach had more to say about the team’s defensive effort and lack of execution.
“They took it right to us,” Hopkins admitted. “We just had some break downs and we have to get better.”
He added. “I wasn’t too happy with our overall defensive effort.”
Texas Southern (1-9 with the loss) received a boost from athletic forward Derrick Griffin, who finished with 9-for-9 from the floor, including a highlight-worthy slam dunk in the first half. A top high school football recruit just two years ago, Griffin walked on the basketball team and was playing in only his fifth collegiate game against the Orange.
After watching how well Griffin and mates played against the Orange under the Dome, Hopkins singled out DaJuan Coleman and Tyler Roberson for their efforts in the paint.
“DaJuan did a decent job,” he said, assessing the senior center’s play. “But we need Tyler (Roberson) to be a very physical presence down there.”
Coleman, who still hasn’t played a full game, finished with 14 points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes of action.
Roberson played 26 minutes scored eight points and grabbed five rebounds.
In addition to Gbinije and Coleman, Trevor Cooney (14), Tyler Lydon (13) and Malachi Richardson (10) finished in double digits. Richardson took a nasty fall on the offensive side and went to the locker room with six minutes remaining. His status was not disclosed during the press conference.
A re-occurring theme this season, as in years past, Hopkins said the defensive will determine the squad’s success through the ACC schedule, beginning Wednesday against former Big East foe, Pitt.
“Our best offense is our defense because then we are in transition,” Hopkins said.
For the game, SU shot 8-of-26 from 3-point range…a cool 31% that needs to improve.
“We got great shots but we just didn’t knock them down,” the coach said.
Roberson sounded confident as the Orange concluded its preseason slate on the holiday weekend.
“We are ready because we know what to expect,” the junior forward said. “We are looking forward to it.”
Cooney, the fifth-year senior guard, agreed with his coach and said the team has to play better each game.
“I think we’re ready for the challenge,” he added.