USA TODAY Sports
After knocking off the #1 team in the nation on the road on Saturday, the newly third-ranked Syracuse Orange had less than 48 hours to turn around and prepare for another tough conference matchup when #21 Cincinnati came to the Carrier Dome Monday afternoon.
Here’s my report card from the Orange’s 57-55 nailbiter win over the Bearcats:
Heads of the Class:
Michael Carter-Williams and C.J. Fair’s late clutch play: Much was made of Carter-Williams’ early struggles at Louisville, but he came through when it counted against the Cardinals with timely end of game defense and scoring. The same could be said on Monday, but MCW had help this time around. For the second consecutive game Carter-Williams hit a key late three, this time tying the game at 55 with just over a minute remaining. Then C.J. Fair was credited with perhaps the most important bucket of his career to this point, a tip-in in traffic off of a missed Jerami Grant drive with about 30 seconds left to put SU up by two. Fair finished game with 13 points and 6 rebounds in an iron man-like 40 minutes, and MCW led the team with 16 points along with 7 rebounds and 5 assists.
Leadership From The Stars: With senior James Southerland ineligible, Jim Boeheim is leaning on his stars even more than perhaps even he had planned. In addition to Fair’s 40 minutes, Brandon Triche and MCW each logged 36 against a physical Cincy squad. This reminds me of the 2007-08 and 2008-09 teams with Jonny Flynn logging 35+ minutes a night, and I find myself hoping that fatigue or foul trouble don’t end up costing SU a key game sometime down the road.
Stay After Class:
Defensive Rebounding: Cincinnati kept itself in the game by outrebounding SU 33-25, including a gut-wrenching 13 offensive boards. This is where the lack of production from Rakeem Christmas and DaJuan Coleman really hurt the Orange, and where the SU guards really need to pitch in and help out. The Orange forced the Bearcats into a poor shooting afternoon, giving up only 32% from the floor and 31% from three, but those aforementioned 13 offensive rebounds kept UC in the game and prevented SU from consistently getting out on its high octane fast break.
Final Grade: B-
I feel like I have said this before, but a win is a win no matter how ugly. After the emotion of Saturday’s upset coupled with the quick turnaround to Monday afternoon, SU showed some grit by finding a way to pull one out against a tough opponent. If anything, these narrow victories should provide some quality crunch time experience for SU’s young players, and hopefully prepare them for the increased pressure come tournament time.