Maui Invitational Championship Game - Recapping SU's Win Over Baylor

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse 74 - Baylor 67

Syracuse Orange knock off the #18th ranked Baylor Bears in the Championship of the Maui Invitational to remain undefeated all-time in the island tournament.

Aloha was the perfect theme for The Orange's complete Championship effort tonight. Goodbye, Hawaii! Hello 2013-14 Syracuse Orange Basketball Team! This was the best game the team has put together all year, led by uber-reliable CJ Fair, backed up by the dynamic play of Jerami Grant, and supported by solid guard play by the "inexperienced" backcourt. I'm not sure how much longer we are going to be able to use the word "inexperienced" about this team, after the calm veteran effort they displayed all week.

Syracuse stuck to their normal offensive game plan, which features CJ Fair smart reliable offense, good decisions by the guards, and physical domination by the forwards and centers. The 2-3 zone forced a good but erratic Baylor team into 20 turnovers, and other than a few tough three-pointers and a few over-the-center drive and alley-oops, Baylor had a tough time finishing all night. This was as complete as Syracuse has played so far this year, jumping out to a 12-2 lead off of three pointers from CJ and Ennis in the first 3 minutes, and once they held a 11 point lead with 10 minutes left in the first half, they never let it get closer than 6, other than a quick 4 point margin in the closing minutes. True domination, leaving us with too much hope for the rest of the season.

Hawaii - 5-Oh!

Number 5, CJ Fair showed up and produced all tournament, whether it be as a role player in the Cal game when the shots aren't going in, or getting the ball, playing aggressively, and dominating defenses like he did against Baylor tonight. CJ starts the offense by getting the ball 5 feet inside the three-point line, and either burying the jumper or driving and finishing. Fair ended with 24 points off a noteworthy 10-17 shooting, including 2-3 from long distance. He wasn't as active on the boards, but he was all over the defensive end, getting 3 steals, and an offensive foul call against him.

CJ Fair showed a complete pro game today, firing on all cylinders. When the rest of the team plays this well, including Jerami Grant specifically, CJ will be able to have his way with opposing defenses. He's shown a lot of growth in finding his role this trip, after coming off the bewildering St Francis experience. When CJ produces and plays like he did tonight, its tough to see the Orange losing too many.

Role Playing Games

Most of the team performed tonight in a support role, but special consideration should be given to Jerami Grant. Grant finished with 19 points on an efficient 8-12 shooting, including hitting all 3 free throws. Syracuse continued the Maui Free Throw Experience with 10-11 night at the line, finishing 55-61 from the line from the tournament. I doubt they would have walked away with the trophy without such a good free throw effort.

Back to Jerami. Grant was able to knock down the long jumper, but the most impressive piece of his game was his ability to drive to the basket with strength, and then finish over a physical opponent. He had 3 "And-ones", and as you saw, hit all three shots. Grant was extremely good at the momentum shifter, where Baylor would get the difference down to 6 points, and then Grant would hit a tough shot to push it right back up to 8, and then CJ would push it to 10. Grant has explosive athleticism and is able to find ways to score. CJ is the bread of this team, but Jerami brings the butter.

Ennis (11 points), Cooney (11 points), and Gbinije (1 big block) all had solid efforts, with Ennis looking more like a better shooting Triche every day (Miss you Brandon!). Ennis can finish drives, and takes smart shots. His importance on the defensive end should not be overlooked, as he added 4 steals to his 9 assist, 0 turnover effort. How many freshman point guards can finish back-to-back games against top opponents with 0 turnovers?

Cooney had a decent game, but he really showed his ability to drive and function as a playmaker. For the first time that I can remember, Cooney finished with more two point field goals than three pointers. He also avoided turnovers, and racked up 4 assists and 2 steals. Gbinije played decently in his back-up PG position in limited minutes, but was able to contribute One HUGE Block that allows him to get a pass on the day.

Center of Attention

Christmas and Baye Keita rebounded well and played hard games. Keita had a couple fouls that could have been avoided, but his physical play should not go unrecognized. Christmas continues to be the most reliable offensive center, as Dajuan Coleman only saw 10 minutes of court time. Christmas had an aggressive dunk and-one to help push the game back up to double digits.

The physicality of this Orange team is becoming apparent, and impressive. Grant ran straight at the defensive players, bodied up, and was able to get points and fouls. Christmas and Keita threw their bodies around to reinforce the phrase "No Easy Buckets". This is how you intimidate teams and turn small victories into blow-outs. Hopefully they can continue this physical play into the ACC conference play.

Final Thoughts

We finally saw the Syracuse team that was had been expecting all year. Boeheim warned us not to get our hopes too high, but its hard to do that when the Orange keep playing above their competition. It doesn't seem to matter who the opponent is, but CJ and Jerami will play up to the stage, Ennis and Cooney know how to combine for reliable and productive guard play, and the Christmas and Keita will teach opposing players how to play the inside of a zone defense.

Next up is another rematch against an Indiana team that we saw in the NCAA tournament last year. Indiana has arguably lost much more than the Orange, in Zeller and Oladipo leaving for top draft spots. Hopefully, we can bring the same imposing zone, physical play, and smart offense that was able to totally dominate this team last year.

Oh, Syracuse. How you build us up with hope and expectations. Thank you for a fun week, and we hope you enjoyed Hawaii!

Until next time. Let's! Go! S! U!