Syracuse 92 - California 81
On to the Championship with our Syracuse Orange, behind a big offense and great guard play against a high quality Cal team!
Resilience. The one word that comes up every year when trying to describe Syracuse Basketball. Whether it's regrouping as a program, or finding a different way to win. Today, they brought an offensive game plan and backed it up with physical play reminiscent of the former Big East. SU scored 92 points on 53% shooting, including 7-14 from three point range. California looked even better than last year in the tournament, but they were without leading rebounder and key senior Richard Solomon, which ended up being one of the big difference makers in the game.
Syracuse went on a 11-2 run in the second half to seize a back-and-forth high scoring affair. The Orange hit free throw after free throw all night long, finishing 23 of 24 from the charity stripe. Go ahead and read that last sentence again. What was once a glaring weakness is starting to become a strength for this team, with Boeheim leading the way in Hawaii by going 2-2 from the literal charity stripe.
Welcome to the Tyler Ennis Breakout After-Party! Ennis led the way with 28 points on 9-12 shooting, 8-8 from the line, and 2-3 from three. His 28 points amounted for the 3rd most points for a Freshman in Syracuse's History! He also added 4 assists and 3 steals, including one big swipe on the inbounds pass after a made shot for an easy layup with less than 10 minutes remaining, sealing the 11-2 game changing run. Ennis outmatched solid and experienced Cal Senior Justin Cobbs all night, in contribution, court presence, and poise. We were able to finally see the big-time player that we have been getting flashes of all season. He played tough, smart basketball, and controlled the game as a pure point guard.
Jerami Grant saved his best game all year for a time when they needed it most. Grant made athletic plays around the basket, including this BIG Sportscenter Top 10 Nominee putback grab-and-slam to spark the key 11-2 run. Grant finished with 19 points making 7 of his 11 FG attempts, and he even shot 5-6 from the free throw line. He did end up fouling out with 2 minutes remaining, but not before grabbing 8 boards and threatening to block shots all over the court. Finally, Pro-Potential Jerami showed up to confidently drive to the basket, and even hit a 20 foot jumper when needed.
We can't forget about Trevor Cooney either, who put up 23 big points, going 5-8 from three pointers on some great looking catch-and-shoots. Trevor is continuing to prove himself as a classic Syracuse shooter, who can hit big shots, with his accuracy improving as he gets more confident. Cooney handled the ball well, except for 2 straight lapses where he passed the ball to Cal Defenders for easy run outs. He was able to drive the ball to the basket a couple times after getting hot from deep, and even tricked the defense into an easy back-cut layup. Cooney is shaping up to be a leader of this team, and I'm a big fan of how much he leaves on the court.
I haven't even mentioned CJ Fair yet! CJ had his typical solid game, ending with 14 points and 7 rebounds. He had a tough shooting night, going 5-17 from the field, but played tough, gritty basketball and provided senior leadership. CJ is obviously becoming the focal point of defensive strategies, and is getting double teamed on a regular basis. He was still able to provide a strong mid-range game to compliment Cooney's long distance, Grant's basket play, and Ennis's driving. CJ is a fixture on the court, and was a ball hawk all game. This has been CJ through-out his career; He is not necessarily a go-to scorer, he is a reliable role player, teammate, and winner. I'm predicting him to be a similar Pro to Gordon Hayward, formerly of Butler.
For how well the previous 4 played for Syracuse, they needed every bit of it due to some Center trouble. It seems that the big men were just a step behind the ball today. Keita, Coleman and Christmas COMBINED for 8 points and 3 rebounds. Coleman was getting beat up and down the court, Christmas can't seem to make a defensive play without rubbing his body against the attacker and shrugging at the ref, and Keita couldn't buy a rebound and is a ghost on offense. Christmas was especially poor, and played like a freshman, seemingly losing everything he's learned every other possession
The weak center of the defense allowed Cal's David Kravish to go 6-8 and punish the high post to start the game, and second half. Unfortunately, Solomon's absence was huge for the Orange, as Kravish picked up fouls quickly and foolishly, and the depth wasn't available. Jerami Grant was specifically good at attacking the defense and drawing fouls and taking advantage of the soft forward position. If Cal was at full strength, this game would have gone right down to the wire. Only when Kravish left with 4 fouls was Syracuse able to pull away in the second half.
Syracuse displayed a tough attitude this game, somehow without drawing too much attention from the refs. Grant and Keita were all over the backboard on defense, with Fair getting a big swat to eliminate a shot clock attempt. There were a couple big slam dunks by Grant that were straight demoralizing. Ennis had a couple hard, tone-setting fouls, even if unintentional. Towards the end of the game, Cobbs and Gbinije got into a tug-of-war with the ball, with Mike G staring him down and not giving in. Toughness breeds confidence, and this team will rely on a tough backbone this year, especially in gritty games.
Although the referees were fair about calling fouls on Cal, I still felt that Syracuse received the bad end of several questionable calls. I might still be sour from CJ's bloody dunk yesterday, but the refs seemed to allow a lot of contact on Ennis, especially.
Although Crabbe never ended up heating up, Cal was right back in this one. This was a close game from beginning until 5 minutes left, that silenced all doubters of Syracuse's Offensive production. Syracuse played as well as it has all year, even though Cal had seemed to figure out the 2-3 zone, with more penetration, open three pointers, and high-post play. SU put the ball in the basket from everywhere on the court, and Ennis showed us just how could he can be.
I'm looking forward towards a fun championship game against either a very beatable Baylor team, or a suddenly-hot Dayton Flyers team that put up 78 points on St Francis-NY team that almost upset SU last week. Curse ESPN for showing water slide and beach pictures while I'm watching snow steadily fall here in Upstate NY! Hope the boys are enjoying the time in Hawaii; I know I am.
Until next time, Let's! Go! S! U!