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Shut Down: Syracuse Finishes Business with Eastern Michigan 70-48

In the final non-conference matchup before the start of the ACC schedule, Syracuse hosted the Eastern Michigan Eagles and welcomed former Orange assistant coach Rob Murphy and center DaShonte Riley (and Hanson!) to the Carrier Dome.

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Syracuse started out strong and jumped out to leads of 20-8 and 28-10 in the first half, then essentially coasted for most of the rest of the game to cruise to a 70-48 victory. That brought the Orange record to 13-0 in non-conference play, and was their 51st consecutive non-conference home win in the Carrier Dome.

Here is my report card from courtside:

Head of the Class

Jerami Grant: Grant received his first start of the season after it was revealed that Dajuan Coleman would not play due to a left knee contusion. Grant made the most of the unexpected start to score 9 of SU’s first 11 points as they shot out to the early advantage. He had 12 of his 15 points in the first half, to which Jim Boeheim said after the game that Grant “won the game in the first five minutes”, and EMU was forced to play catch-up for the rest of the game.

Afterward, Grant’s teammates were effervescent in their praise of the sophomore forward. Tyler Ennis said “He did a good job in the high post,” and looked to be aggressive when he got the ball. When asked about his success in the paint, Grant said that “They (EMU’s centers) were playing deep, so whoever was driving the ball could kick it to me and I could do something with it.” Trevor Cooney echoed his coach, adding that Grant provided a real jolt to the lineup. “He really got us going today,” said Cooney, “and that spark pretty much won us the game.”

Passing Grades

Rakeem Christmas: When asked about Christmas’s performance today. Boeheim went out of his way to say that Christmas had his “worst half of the year” in the first half – “and he had eight points.” I think that’s a bit of hyperbole, and Boeheim’s way of making a point that scoring isn’t everything.

Christmas scored a career-high 15 Tuesday afternoon, on 7-8 shooting from the floor and 1-2 from the line. But he didn’t have a single rebound in the first half, which I think was a source of Boeheim’s frustration. Christmas addressed that after the game, saying that he “was trying to go after it more in the second half… trying to get more rebounds and block more shots,” making it clear to me that his coach got on him at halftime. Christmas finished with 3 rebounds and 2 blocks, which aren’t spectacular numbers but indicative that he did step up his effort in the second half. Two of his layups came directly off of offensive rebounds and putbacks, and from my vantage point he was more active around the rim after halftime.

Tyler Ennis: Speaking of ‘scoring isn’t everything,’ Tyler Ennis is a walking case study for that very theory. Ennis was 0-4 from the field and had zero points, but had an impact on the game from start to finish. His penetration and passing allowed Christmas to get such close looks at the goal, and contributed mightily to the team’s 51% shooting from the floor. He had 9 assists – a few of them spectacular lobs or drop-offs to teammates for easy layups, and added 5 rebounds and 3 steals with only 2 turnovers in 32 minutes. So, scoring isn’t everything, right?

Stay After School

SU’s Team Intensity: SU has trouble putting out a complete effort for 40 minutes a night. They get into their lulls, typically in the middle of the first half, and need a kick in the rear from Boeheim to get things going again. Tuesday was no different. After building up that 28-10 lead, SU relaxed and allowed EMU to whittle the score down to 9 by halftime. Now SU’s lead was never really in danger, but when the Orange clearly outclass an opponent they need to learn to keep their collective foot on the gas and not let complacency set in.

“We got off to a good start,” said Ennis after the win, “but we have to focus and continue it for the whole game.” He added “We just have to continue to put together full halves and games going into the ACC.

This team is so talented that I think they feel like they can coast from time to time and not have it come back to bite them. They have been right – so far – but St. Francis almost caught them napping. I think it’s possible SU goes into the gym of some ACC team near the bottom of the standings – I’m looking at you, Virginia Tech – and gets caught in one of those ‘trap games’ everyone likes to talk about. It could even happen at home against Miami on Saturday, who have been playing better as of late.

Final Grade: B+

After the game, Boeheim did not seem particularly concerned about Coleman’s injury. He said the center was receiving treatment, and was “day-to-day” not “week-to-week.” Boeheim said he will continue to receive treatment over the next few days, and his status for Miami is uncertain.

I know the knee-jerk reaction among some SU fans would be to point to this game as a reason why Grant should be starting, but I disagree. I think Boeheim likes to have a sparkplug come off the bench, and Grant fits that bill much like James Southerland and Dion Waiters before him. Besides, Coleman has shown flashes of solid play this season, and I think his size and strength will be an asset against larger post players like UNC’s Kennedy Meeks or Pittsburgh’s Talib Zanna. So let’s not write him off just yet, ok?

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