Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
Syracuse beat Rutgers 78-53 Wednesday night in the final Big East Conference opener for the Orange. Just as importantly, the win pushed coach Jim Boeheim past Hall of Famer Bob Knight into second place on the career victories list with 903.
I had the good fortune to sit courtside and watch the historic action unfold. Here’s my report card from the game:
Head of the Class
I’m tempted to go with Boeheim here, for obvious reasons, but I can’t downplay the night Brandon Triche had. Triche led the Orange with 25 points and chipped in 6 assists, but it was his efficiency and shooting range that was most striking. Triche was on fire from beyond the arc, hitting on 5 of 7 three-point shots, and was 8-11 overall (plus 4-4 from the free throw line). His outside shooting drew the Rutgers defense away from the basket, which allowed teammates like Michael Carter-Williams and C.J. Fair more room to get into the lane and create scoring opportunities.
When asked after the game about his sudden shooting stroke, Triche said he has always been confident he could make plays, even when he shot was off. He said he can’t always control if the shots are going to go in, but he can control the amount of hustle and energy he has on the court. He also gave credit to his teammates for his success, singling out MCW as someone who makes his job easier by getting into the lane and getting the ball to him in a position to score.
Defensive Intensity: The game was most notable for the 24-0 run Syracuse put on Rutgers over approximately 9 minutes, spanning the latter part of the first half and the beginning of the second. SU was simply dominant during that stretch, swarming the Rutgers ballhandlers on defense and causing turnovers and bad shots which led to transition opportunities at the other end. The Orange are at their best when they can disrupt their opponents and elevate the pace of the game, and by forcing Rutgers into 20 turnovers (and blocking 9 shots) there were plenty of opportunities for SU to get out and run. After the game the subject of the run came up repeatedly, and both Triche and Carter-Williams mentioned that their defense needs to contribute to their offense in order for them to be successful this season.
Jim Boeheim: In the midst of all of the chatter surrounding Doug Marrone’s reported dalliances with the NFL, let’s not forget that Boeheim has accomplished every single one of his 903 wins at one school: Syracuse University. For 50 years he has been a major thread in the fabric of the university, as much a part of campus culture as freezing cold walks across the Quad or avoiding Friday classes. No other school can point to that type of loyalty from its basketball coach, not even Duke or North Carolina – and certainly not Kentucky. Let’s hope that carries over to the football side of Manley Field House.
By the way, Boeheim’s 903 wins at SU (since 1976) equal the total number of wins the entire Rutgers program has had since 1947. Let that one sink in for a while.
Stay After Class
Early Perimeter Defense: Even though Syracuse cruised to an easy win Wednesday night, they weren’t without fault. Early on the game was tight, and in fact right before the 24-0 run started SU was actually down 20-18 with 8:06 to go in the first half. Rutgers guard Eli Carter lit up the Orange from the outside, nearly matching Triche’s hot shooting by going 7-13 from the floor and 5-10 from 3. Teams have shown that they can punch holes in the 2-3 zone with good outside shooting, and the defense needs to be cognizant of their opponents’ shooters and harass them early before they get on a roll.
Fan Support: I must admit I was surprised when the attendance for Wednesday night’s game was announced at 17,413. That seemed low to me for the (last) Big East opener and the first chance at Boeheim’s milestone win. It’s easy to dismiss relatively small crowds when Alcorn State or Monmouth roll into town, but Rutgers? I didn’t expect 34,000 to show up, but I figured somewhere in the mid-20s was reasonable. Am I expecting too much on a cold January night?
Final Grade: A-
Syracuse looked good against a quality conference rival, and that 24-0 run was impressive to see in person. Let’s hope it’s a sign that the non-conference doldrums are behind them and their best basketball is yet to come as the final Big East season kicks into gear.