Here’s is my report card from courtside as the Orange held off the Panthers and advanced to Friday night:
Head of the Class
James Southerland: For the second consecutive afternoon, James Southerland’s scorching-hot outside shooting carried the Orange while his teammates worked to find their offensive groove. James was 5-5 from beyond the arc in the first half, finishing 6-6 for the game (20 points total) and setting a Big East Tournament record for most threes in one contest without a miss. Toss in 6-9 from downtown on Wednesday (5 in the first half) and I think it’s fair to say he’s the primary reason SU is still playing.
Michael Carter-Williams: I think MCW may be figuring this point guard thing out. He followed up his 14 assist, 1 turnover masterpiece Wednesday with another solid effort vs. Pitt, filling up the stat sheet to the tune of 11 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals in 38 minutes. He did commit 6 turnovers, but his errors were in a haste to push the ball and create opportunities as opposed to passively allowing the defense to take the ball from him. Carter-Williams also flourished from the free throw line, sinking 6 of 8 including two clutch shots in the final seconds that sealed the win for SU. Boeheim specifically referenced those free throws after the game, theorizing that MCW’s midseason struggles (such as vs. Temple) gave him the valuable experience needed to come through in the clutch Thursday.
Conditioning: SU Strength and Conditioning Coach Ryan Cabiles must be proud. Four Orange starters - James Southerland, Brandon Triche, C.J. Fair, and Michael Carter-Williams - played 35 or more minutes vs. Pitt, following a similar workload vs. Seton Hall and pretty much since Southerland returned from ineligibility. Now I know that tournament games like these have more (and longer) timeouts, but battling a tough team like the Panthers can be physically taxing, and it’s a testament to the team’s conditioning that they were able to pull out a close game down the stretch.
Stay After Class
Rebounding: Syracuse was outrebounded by Pittsburgh 40-28, with the Panthers just flat-out outmuscling the Orange for several tough boards underneath the basket. Now of course the 2-3 zone puts SU at a disadvantage when it comes to finding a man to box out, but a 12 rebound deficit could spell disaster for SU if it happens against an opponent who shoots better than the 37.5% Pitt put up on Thursday.
Officiating: Unless I missed something, Syracuse did not attempt a free throw in the first half. We know they were trying to take the ball to the basket, and the were fouled 14 times, but SU only attempted 10 FTs for the entire game, making 6. The game was damn near a street fight at times in the lane, and the refs’ haphazard calls were a source of great confusion for coaches, players, and fans alike.
Final Grade: A-
This was a tough test against a tough team, and SU passed. It was close at the end, but in retrospect that made the game all the more exciting to watch. The electricity of the Garden crowd in a close tournament game will be missed. I hope the ACC tourney will be able to match that someday.