Report Card: "Confident" Trevor Cooney Leads Syracuse Past Western Michigan

THERE he is.

After a disappointing one-and-done in the ACC Tournament, the 3rd seeded Syracuse Orange looked to bounce back when they headed down the Thruway to Buffalo for the second round of the NCAA Tourney.

In front of a decidedly pro-Orange crowd of 19,260, SU had little problem with the #14 Western Michigan Broncos of the Mid-American Conference and cruised to an easy 77-53 victory.

The Orange will now face the #11 seed Dayton Flyers in the third round on Saturday. The Flyers upset the #6 Ohio State Buckeyes 60-59 in a thriller to start off the festivities on Thuesday afternoon.

Here is my recap of Syracuse vs. Western Michigan from the First Niagara Center:

Head of the Class

Trevor Cooney: FINALLY.

After a series of poor performances over the past month and a half, Cooney bounced back Saturday with his highest scoring output since his career-high 33 at the Carrier Dome vs. Notre Dame. Cooney shot 5-10 from the floor and 4-8 from three for 18 big points in only 27 minutes of play. His stroke looked extremely confident, without the hesitation that has plagued him recently, and we even got to see flashes of the #CooneyFace we have come to know and love. Or, at least tolerate.

“My confidence was never down,” said Cooney after the game. I don’t know if I believe him, but okay. “I had some games where the ball didn’t go in for me. I made a lot of threes this year, and I know I can make threes. It was just about coming out and doing it.”

Jim Boeheim added “Same guy, you know? Same guy. He’s just got to get his looks and take them. I think he’s been aggressive. That’s what you have to do. If you’re a shooter, you’ve got to be aggressive. He’s played all the other parts of the game, which is what you have to do.”

Passing Grades

Jerami Grant: What back problems? Considering the circumstances, this may have been Grant’s best performance of the season. 16 points and 5 rebounds on 6-9 from the field and 4-4 from the charity stripe. Most importantly, 29 minutes of above the rim play, including a couple of highlight reel dunks that seemed to put to rest any lingering questions about his balky back. He was his old energetic self, which is huge for the Orange if they plan on making a deep tournament run.

Tyler Ennis: Mr. Unflappable logged another steady performance, quarterbacking the Orange offense to its best offensive output since the Duke win on February 1st. Ennis shot 7-11 from the floor, and his 6 assists made for some easy looks for his Orange teammates. He was a +28 on the afternoon, to borrow a hockey stat in Sabre-land, which was tops on the team. Cooney’s threes and Grant’s dunk may be the sizzle that gets all the attention, but it’s Ennis’s rock-solid play that really makes the Orange go.

C.J. Fair: Nothing much, just another double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds in 32 minutes. Ho-hum. Moving on…

Stay After School

I can’t really find anything too egregious to mention here. While SU didn’t play flawlessly, the game was never truly in doubt and SU was in cruise control for most of the second half. They did have 12 turnovers, and put WMU on the line 20 times with 21 team fouls. But that’s REALLY nitpicking at this point.

I suppose I could mention that Rakeem Christmas had 2 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 personal fouls in 23 minutes. I could also add that he was called for two goaltending violations and was generally nonexistent on offense. But I won’t, because I don’t want to spoil my good mood.

Final Grade: A+

Notes

- SU’s defense harassed the Broncos into 13 turnovers, 11 of which came before halftime. Those turnovers led to 19 Orange points. SU was flying all over the place on defense, and WMU coach Steve Hawkins said so much after the game.

“We ran into a buzzsaw today,” said Hawkins, searching for words to describe the Orange 2-3 zone. “I think they spent the majority of the season ranked number one in the nation, and they looked like it today. We made too many mistakes in the first half, and Syracuse will make you pay when you make those kind of mistakes.

“They’re long, athletic” said Bronco guard David Brown. “They make you second-guess where you want to throw the ball. Like coach said, we turned the ball over way too much. We just didn’t get the ball where we wanted to enough.”

The stats back that up. WMU shot only 34.7% from the floor and a paltry 22.2% (4-18) from three on the day, and turned the ball over on a whopping 20% of their possessions. That’s one out of every five times down the floor SU didn’t let WMU even get a shot off. That’s pretty good.

- SU also hit the glass hard, grabbing 28 total rebounds (to WMU’s 17), 13 on the offensive end. They converted those second chances into 15 points, and owned the offensive paint, scoring 28 of their 77 down low.

- SU shot 14-17 (82.4%) from the free throw line, and 28-57 (49.1%) from the field overall. It’s clear to me that when they force turnovers and push the ball, they get easier looks at the rim. Seems easy, but that hasn’t exactly been their M.O. lately.

For a more detailed recap and commentary on the game and Jim Boeheim’s postgame news conference, visit my Twitter feed by clicking here.
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