You know what it is that bothers me about the Syracuse Orange's recent string of victories (while noting the irony of that statement)? It's that I feel like everyone walks away from the game feeling like, had the ball bounced a different way a couple times, they would have beaten us. And given the chance to play us again, I imagine they think they would. We've won eight-straight but our opponents are 8-0 in moral victories in that time as well.
I know, moral victories don't mean crap at the end of the day and the Orange did indeed take care of business, beating the South Florida Bulls 56-48. But I can't help but continue to feel uneasy about the progress of this team headed into the post-season. I said on Twitter that while I do not expect them to lose early in the NCAA Tournament, this team is going to give us a heart attack when they're down ten to a 16-seed late in the first half.
Late in the first half, Scoop Jardine has one of his patented "I don't care what happens, I'm shooting this" plays early on that ended up being a patented flailing, driving miss. Afterward, Scoop kept his takeover-mentality going and it's probably what saved the Orange on this night. Scoop finished with 15 points, 4 assists and 3 turnovers, but it was the switch he flicked late in the first half that made the difference. Want to know why Boeheim plays him over Triche when it matters? You saw it last night.
C.J. Fair continues to take over on the stat sheet, scoring 13 points, grabbing six rebounds and making five steals. At one point early-on, Fair accounted for roughly 80% of our offense. A bad spill on the slippery court took him out of commission early but he returned to do more damage.
Kris Joseph had 12 points, though on 5-of-17 shooting. He also grabbed nine rebounds.
Fabricio de Melo only scored four points but he stepped it up on defense, grabbing six rebounds and blocking six shots. Meanwhile Dion Waiters scored nine in 19 minutes of limited action. Brandon Triche scored three as the only other member of the team to score points.
At one point early on, USF had a commanding 20-7 lead, thanks to Syracuse's inability to make a basket or grab a rebound and the Bulls' inability to miss. However, Syracuse finished the half on a 17-0 run led by Jardine to take a 24-20 lead at the break. Jardine hit two threes and scored eight points in the burst and Dion Waiters capped it with a three-point play.
The Bulls used a 9-1 run, capped by Jawanza Poland's fast-break dunk, to pull within 36-31 in the second half. Fair played stopper for Syracuse with a one- handed runner on the left side, but the game remained close. It took a 5-0 Syracuse spurt to create some distance after South Florida had pulled within 47-46. Joseph's second-chance bucket in the lane capped it and he had a tip-in later that made it 54-48 inside three minutes.
With the win, the Orange improved to 18-0 at the Carrier Dome this season with only one home game remaining. 28 wins tied the school record set in 2009-10 for most in a regular season and Syracuse clinched at least a tie for the Big East regular season championship.
Up next is the first of two rematches to end the regular season. We start in Connecticut where the Huskies host us for ESPN Gameday. They'll be pumped, the crowd will be excited and they'll be hoping that this will be the game Syracuse can't overcome it's lousy start. The Orange can prevent that by playing a full 40-minute game. Whether that's possible remains to be seen.