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No Challenge: Ennis and Cooney Lead Syracuse Past Indiana

In perhaps their best overall effort of the season, the Syracuse Orange rode their young backcourt to an impressive 69-52 victory over #23 ranked and perpetual 1987 nemesis Indiana in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Tyler Ennis > Noah Vonleh
Tyler Ennis > Noah Vonleh
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse was led by its guard tandem of Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney, who combined for 38 points and continued the impressive performances they displayed in the Maui Invitational run last week. The Hoosiers were paced by stud freshman Noah Vonleh, who scored 17 points and grabbed six rebounds and generally made life miserable for all three of SU’s big men.

Here is my report card from SU's victory Tuesday night, which moved the #4 Orange to 8-0 with Binghamton coming to the Carrier Dome on Saturday:

Head of the Class

Tyler Ennis: Quite simply, the freshman point guard had his best game in a Syracuse uniform. In addition to his 17 points, which came on a super-efficient 6-8 from the floor (and 4-7 from the line), Ennis also tallied a team-high seven rebounds and eight assists. He did this all in a whopping 38 minutes of court time, a number closer to what many, including myself, expected to see from him when the season began.

When discussing his performance after the game, Ennis said the rebounds came from an extra effort to hit the boards, something coach Jim Boeheim reminded his players about at halftime. He deflected any praise that came his way, saying that his success is a testament to the team’s depth, and it "shows how many weapons we have" that "if one guy doesn’t have a good game, someone else can step up" and shoulder more of the burden. Ennis was that someone Tuesday night.

Cooney praised his backcourt mate, calling Ennis an "unbelievable" point guard who is "going to make the right plays" as he grows into his role as a playmaker and team leader. He added that Ennis is a "great guard to play with" because "he makes my job easier" by getting Cooney the ball in a position to do something positive with it… like shoot threes.

Passing Grades

Trevor Cooney: It’s a testament to how good of an overall game Ennis had that Cooney finds himself second on this recap. Trevor was no slouch, keeping the Hoosier defense honest by shooting a sparkling 5-9 from three and 6-12 overall for 21 points in 29 minutes. Cooney got many of his shots on set plays in the half court, where he would run off of teammates’ screens and curl to the three-point line for open looks – usually on the business end of a pinpoint Ennis pass.

In the locker room after the game. Ennis took the opportunity to send some praise back at Cooney. He said Trevor’s shooting "helps us out in transition" because defenders are forced to locate him on the perimeter and have to choose between leaving Cooney open for a three or allowing one of his SU teammates to cut hard to the basket. Ennis added that "When he (Cooney) is hitting, we have so many weapons," which if you consider that all-everything forward C.J. Fair put up 15 points and is kind of an afterthought then he isn’t far from the truth.

Regarding the unpleasantness in the second half, Cooney brushed it off in the post-game interviews. He got a laugh when he said "Yeah, it hurt, and I’m sure it will hurt tomorrow," but added "From what I know he (Austin Etherington) was just making a play on the ball."

Rebounding: I’ll be the first to admit that I get on the Orange when they get their butts handed to them on the glass. Well, Tuesday night they did an excellent job and deserve praise for it. Indiana came into the game outrebounding their opponents by a whopping 18 boards a game, but Syracuse played them to a 29-29 tie. Their effort, led by Ennis’s seven, allowed the Orange to get out in transition and keep Indiana from doing too much damage on the inside. Well, except for…

Stay After School

Interior Defense: …the four fouls each on Dajuan Coleman, Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita. Many of those hacks could be attributed to their difficulty keeping up with the super-athletic Vonleh, who scored 13 of his 17 points at the free throw line. Yikes.

The defense was certainly better in the second half, and Boeheim even said as much in his postgame news conference. He told reporters that the team as a whole really did its best job defensively this entire year, and "our defense was the difference" in a game for the first time this season. He did allude to the big men’s foul woes, commenting that "our centers were a little too physical" and need to adjust better when the referees are calling seemingly minor fouls.

Final Grade: A-

I don’t think a Syracuse fan, or a college basketball fan in general, can ask for a better game this early in the season. The steady diet of Fordham and Colgate cupcakes is a little easier to swallow when you get a big Indiana-sized steak dinner once in a while. After a rocky start – St. Francis, anyone? – SU’s trip to Maui seemed to be just what they needed to come together as a team and figure some of this defense and rebounding stuff out. It certainly has paid off for Ennis and Cooney with performances like Tuesday night’s. Hell, Jerami Grant had another electric putback dunk and a couple of out of nowhere blocks, and I didn’t even get to him until about 900 words in. That was the kind of night Syracuse put together, and perhaps it’s a sign to come for the Orange as they start to gear up for the ACC portion of their schedule in about a month.

For a more detailed recap of the game and Boeheim’s postgame news conference, click here and check out my Twitter timeline.