Orange Watch: Ceiling rising for this year’s Syracuse basketball team

The ACC’s leading scorer, Tyus Battle has dazzled offensively in leading Syracuse to its 9-1 start
The ACC’s leading scorer, Tyus Battle has dazzled offensively in leading Syracuse to its 9-1 start

Item: With three new starters, four freshmen seeing a decent amount of playing time, and three games away from the Dome, it’s likely only a small fraction of Orange Nation predicted that SU would be 9-1 after the first 10 games of the season.

Did you see that overtime comeback from 13 points down in the second half coming against Georgetown last Saturday?

After all the Hoyas had SU’s number the last two seasons in D.C. and the Dome, and following a week off for final exams this time around the ‘Cuse came out sluggish in front of the partisan crowd that engulfed the bulk of the lower bowl at Capital One Arena, trying to help will GU to remain one of a half dozen unbeaten teams in Div. I play.

But this year’s Syracuse team, despite its youthfulness and growing pains among its big men down low has talent and experience where it counts the most; in the backcourt. The play of Tyus Battle and Frank Howard has carried much of the weight in leading the Orange with only three games to play before the ACC portion of the schedule kicks in, continuing with tonight’s meeting against Buffalo (7-3) at the Dome (7:00 p.m. ET / ACC Network Extra).

In particular Battle, the ACC’s leading scorer (21.5 ppg) by a fraction over Duke super frosh Marvin Bagley III, has been virtually unstoppable in the clutch moments of the first 10 games, and his long range three point bomb on the first possession of OT against the Hoyas put SU ahead for good.

» Related: Brissett having one of the best freshmen seasons in recent memory

“I have to stay aggressive and attack,” Battle said after Saturday’s victory, simply describing his season-long approach no matter what the scoreboard reads.

“Going into the season I knew we were going to be a good team,” Battle emphasized. “I know the outside people didn’t think (that), they thought what they thought. But I knew we were going to be a good team, I thought we were going to surprise a lot of people this year.”

Running the show and growing in each of his three seasons in the program, Howard has provided the perfect complement to Battle’s scoring prowess by finding his open teammates for baskets (third in the ACC with 6.3 assists per game), and buckling down at the top of the zone defensively (second in the league with 2.2 steals per game).

“Every game means a lot to me,” Howard said after beating Georgetown in the shadow of his Suitland, Md. hometown. “Like I said at the beginning of the year, I’m taking every game personally. That’s what we all want to do, have that grit with us that chip on our shoulder. I just try to take every game personally.”

Rounding out the big three of Orange statistical production is SU’s own prodigal freshman. Oshae Brissett has already become an opponent’s matchup problem with his versatile inside/outside game registering double-double performances in half of the 10 games, exploding for 24 points and 15 boards playing all 45 minutes against Georgetown good enough to be named the ACC’s Rookie of the Week.

“I feel like I am getting a lot more comfortable,” the always cheerful Brissett said after his best collegiate performance.

“It’s hard coming out as a freshman, you have a lot of expectations, everyone wants you to do well. You put that weight on your shoulders and it forces you sometimes to play bad. I had a couple of bad games at the start of the season, but I feel like I’m getting it together now, (and) treat every game like I know what I’m going to do.”

Like it’s late comeback against Georgetown, slowly but surely Syracuse is climbing in the national rankings gaining weekly respect with each accompanying pre-conference win.

“That is something we want to build on, we want it to be our identity, gritty,” Howard proclaimed Saturday. “We want to fight through games, through adversity. We’re going to face a lot (of similar games) this year. Coach (Boeheim) and myself, we’re telling everybody be poised and be calm.”

That approach has worked well so far for this team, that even before ACC play, is focused solely on getting back to the NCAA Tournament.

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About Brad Bierman 848 Articles
Now in his sixth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.