If there was one thing I hadn't seen in four years of Syracuse basketball, it was a marquee non-conference match-up on the hill. We had Memphis a few years back, which was probably the closest thing, but that Tiger team wasn't that good, and it was during winter break.
That all changed this year, when #9 Florida came to the Dome amid a ton of fan fare and a highly-touted back court. On paper, Florida is a team who should give Syracuse and the zone fits. They're a bunch of gunners at guard who hit a ton of threes -- the major conference version of so many mid-majors who have pestered Jim Boeheim teams over the years.
The match-up was obviously well received; Syracuse students lined Gate E almost immediately following the Eastern Michigan game to camp out for Florida. It was the largest outdoor camp-out I've seen for any game, as when temperatures drop and things get too out of hand in terms of numbers, the Dome staff moves kids inside. By 3:30, when gates were about to open for the Otto's Army pep rally, hundreds of students waited patiently to enter.
Personally, I expected to see a bit of the man-to-man we've been experimenting with this year, because Florida shoots the rock so well, but to Boeheim's credit, he stuck with the zone and the strategies that have worked for years and we pulled out a victory.
The defense wasn't always perfect, but in the first half it was pretty tremendous at forcing Florida into shooting, and missing, a ton of threes, and in the second half, when Florida caught fire a bit, it forced enough turnovers for the Orange to weather the storm.
Not enough can be said about how well Scoop Jardine played on Friday. During the season, many kept reiterating that Scoop would be okay and we would need him to step up in a big game, and he really answered against Florida.
After he subbed in for the final time (until coming out for Brandon Reese with four seconds left...work on your free throws Scoop), here was his impact on the play-by-play:
9:41 Jumper by Jardine, 46-46
9:07 3 PTR by Triche, Assist by Jardine 49-46
8:48 Steal by Jardine
8:44 Dunk by Joseph, Assist by Jardine 51-49
8:22 Steal by Jardine
8:18 Rebound by Jardine
6:28 Steal by Jardine
6:22 Layup by Jardine 54-49
5:12 Jumper by Jardine 56-51
3:54 3 PTR by Jardine 61-53
2:36 FT by Jardine 62-53
0:52 Block by Jardine
0:34 Rebound by Jardine
0:17 FT by Jardine 69-63
0:17 FT by Jardine 70-63
Scoop isn't a perfect player, but he has a propensity to be clutch in big situations, and he doesn't shy away from the big stage, for better or worse.
Because of how well Scoop played, Triche's big game has been lost in the shuffle a bit. He didn't have a very good game shooting, 5-13 and 1-4 from deep, but he consistently used his big frame to dominate the smaller Florida guards, got in the paint, drew fouls, and went 9-9 from the stripe. This is the Brandon Triche I want to see every game. If his shots were falling, he would've dropped 30 and the Gators wouldn't have had a chance.
Dion had an off-night, but luckily it was when Triche and Scoop could pick up the slack. I'm fine with Boeheim riding the hot hands, and as long as we have two guards playing well on a given night, we're rarely going to be in too much trouble.
Despite playing the most minutes, this wasn't a great game for Kris Joseph. He only shot 5-14, and like the rest of the team, couldn't get it going from outside (1-5). Luckily, even when Kris doesn't play terribly well, he's fairly productive, with a 14 point, 5 rebound stat line.
Rakeem Christmas = 2(Brandon Reese)
The C.J. Fair/James Southerland theory is holding. James didn't do much offensively in his 11 minutes, going 0-3 from deep, but to his credit, it didn't take away from his floor game too much. James grabbed three boards, blocked a shot, and had a steal. C.J. on the other hand, had a very nice game, with nine points and 11 rebounds. I feel like I write about it after every game, but C.J.'s innate sense of positioning within the zone is just awesome.
The start that Fab Melo put together was just awesome to see. He didn't have his best game, but he set the pace early on, when he scored most of his nine points. I'd like to see him grab more than five boards in 26 minutes, but I'll take that production from Fab for now. Most importantly, he outplayed Patric Young, so take that Patric! Where's your 'k'?
Baye wasn't quite as productive, only scoring two points and grabbing four boards in 14 minutes, but as long as he's giving productive minutes and giving Fab a breather, I'm fine with what we get out of Baye.