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While most Syracuse fans were occupied with the football team’s beating in Tallahassee, the Orange basketball team and Colgate Raiders met on the hardwood for the 166th time in their long history Saturday afternoon.
After a slow start, in which Colgate led as late as 18-17 with 8:27 remaining in the first half, the Orange employed their full-court press and attacked the offensive glass to pull away for a (relatively) easy 69-50 victory.
Here is my report card from the game:
Head of the ClassTyler Ennis: C.J. Fair led the Orange in both scoring and rebounding, but that’s to be expected these days. So let’s talk about SU’s freshman point guard, who had a nice scoring night after struggling for the past couple of games. Ennis was only 4-9 from the floor, but 4-6 from three, and he looked confident and ready to shoot when the ball came his way. It’s a little concerning that he didn’t have any assists, but to be fair the Orange big men missed a couple of his passes that could have been easy scores. I’d like to see him get into the lane a bit more as well, but I think that will come when he becomes more comfortable running the offense and less likely to defer to more experienced teammates.
Passing GradesFull-Court Press: After allowing Cornell and Fordham to repeatedly break their press and get some easy buckets, SU really clamped down against Colgate and made life tough for the Raider guards. The Orange forced Colgate into committing 17 turnovers, and used the press to speed up the pace of the game and get Colgate out of their offensive rhythm. Jim Boeheim alluded to that in his postgame news conference, saying that Colgate was a very methodical team that liked to work the ball around and use up most of the shot clock. Trevor Cooney added that the press is something they work on a lot, and the goal is to force the opponent to make tough decisions which hopefully lead to mistakes and easy baskets at the other end. Michael Gbinije echoed that, telling me that SU wants to use its length and speed to create pressure for opposing guards, especially against teams that may not have the personnel to counter such a vast athletic advantage.
Offensive Rebounding: Syracuse’s press broke the game open for them in the middle of the first half, but their rebounding kept them in it up to that point. Colgate had no counter for SU’s size and ferocity on the offensive glass, and the Orange racked up a whopping half (24) of their total rebounds on that end. Four different Orange men had four offensive boards, including Gbinije, who played around half of his minutes at point guard. Granted, SU had a considerable physical advantage over the Raiders, as I’ve already mentioned. But if SU can even approach these types of numbers on a regular basis, it will help considerably when they have a poor shooting performance like they did on Saturday.
Stay After SchoolFree Throw Shooting: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The talk of the postgame locker room interviews was on SU’s woeful 12-28 (42.9%) effort from the charity stripe. All of those easy looks at the rim don’t mean squat if they can’t convert on the freebies, and we all know that there will be a game or two this season that will be won by the team that converts at the line. It wasn’t like SU shot that great from the floor, either. Their inability to finish around the rim (36.8% from the field) or from deep (29.2% on threes) meant there were a lot of offensive rebounding opportunities to be had, and many more chances to get to the line... and miss from the line. Cooney said after the game that it’s “almost like a domino effect” when teammates start missing, and “in close games, if you miss 16 free throws, you’re going to lose”. He isn’t lying. He says he isn’t really concerned about the poor free throw shooting right now, but added “I’m sure we’re going to shoot a lot of foul shots (in practice) tomorrow.” Boeheim had perhaps the best line about the free throw issues, saying – and I’m paraphrasing slightly – that “We don't take bad shots. We didn't have a bad shot today. We took some bad free throws, but maybe we shouldn't have shot those.” Uh-huh.
DaJuan Coleman and Rakeem Christmas: I had to double check to see if they actually played. They did, and in a combined 30 minutes (15 each) they contributed a grand total of 2 points, 1 assist, 1 block, and 1 steal. So they scored 2 more points than any of us did. They also only attempted one shot each, which probably is related to the meager 4 assists between Cooney, Ennis, and Gbinije. Coleman and Christmas did pitch in 7 rebounds each, which is nice, but I expected more from them against Colgate’s physically inferior front line.
Final Grade: B-
The Orange definitely showed more energy and hustle Saturday than in any game or exhibition thus far. However, another slow start is cause for concern given the level of competition. Perhaps some of the younger players have trouble getting pumped for a game with little hype? Or are they expecting their size and athleticism to carry them every time out? I don’t know quite yet. Fair comes to play every game, and he put up another solid 20 and 7. But the rest of the team is wildly inconsistent from game to game, and it’s hard to gauge who will eventually elevate his play and become the sidekick that Fair sorely needs. They can’t take on tougher opponents like Indiana or Villanova with Fair and no one else. Someone else needs to step up, or they’re going to be in real trouble real soon.
C.J. Fair speaks to the media following the victory over Colgate:
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