All season, Michael Gbinije has been the man for Syracuse.
To say he had the hot hand against North Carolina State is a bit of an understatement.
In his last game at the Carrier Dome Saturday, the fifth-year senior put his team on his back and the Orange won a game it couldn’t afford to lose.
While Gbinije was already having a memorable year for the SU record books, Saturday’s performance is certainly indicative the season rests on Gbinije’s shoulders. As the face of the team, he has scored in double figures in each contest this year. His 34 points against the Wolfpack set a new career high.
“Mike was unbelievable today,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “He carried us. He was the difference.”
Gbinije, who became only the third transfer in the school’s history to eclipse 1,000 career points, scored 22 second half points. On a day when fellow senior Trevor Cooney struggled with his shot and Tyler Roberson played sparingly, his performance was much needed.
“I just wanted to win,” Gbinije said, after the game in which he seamlessly directed the Orange to the victory. “Me shooting the ball tonight was the best option but I’m honestly way happier we won than about my individual performance.”
The Duke transfer joined Leo Rautins and Ryan Blackwell as 1,000 point SU scorers after starting their careers elsewhere. For a program that doesn’t offer a roster spot to many transfer student-athletes, there have been few success stories.
Wes Johnson, who was the most recent transfer to suit up for the Orange before Gbinije, scored 577 points during the 2009-2010 season, his lone year here. Johnson earned the Big East Player of the Year Award before forgoing his final year of eligibility for the NBA.
It’s hard to believe Gbinije was a bench player in his first year on the SU campus two seasons ago and then didn’t start the first six games last year when Chris McCullough was healthy.
This year has been Gbinije’s team.
“Sometimes I forget I was at Duke,” Gbinije admitted. “Syracuse has been a great place for me.”
While Cooney, who finished with five points in his last Dome game, admittedly didn’t have a performance he’d like to remember, credited his backcourt mate after the victory.
“Mike had it going,” Cooney said. “He had the hot hand and we all were just trying to find him.”
Cooney had his streak for converting at least one 3-point shot snapped at 32 games, but was upbeat after the game. The Dome would have erupted if the senior connected on one of his shots. For the game, Cooney was 0-6 from long range, including only two attempts in the second half.
“A win’s a win and that’s all that matters,” Cooney said, looking forward to the last week of the ACC season before the league’s tournament starts March 8 in Washington, D.C.
SU needs to continually fine-tune its game, Boeheim reasoned, and get others involved if this season is going to stretch deep into the postseason. On too many occasions against the sub-.500 Wolfpack, the Orange was sloppy in transition and missed uncontested shots.
“We are making three or four turnovers that we can’t make,” he said. “At this stage of the season we just can’t do that.”
Malachi Richardson, who finished with 13 points including two from long range in the last minute of the first half, said it is important to feed off the momentum from the win.
“We’re taking it one game at a time,” Richardson said.
Now we’ll see how far the momentum will carry the Orange.