It was just 48 hours earlier, on the same court no less, when Syracuse beat Duke in one of the best games a lot of us had ever seen. The overtime thriller against the Blue Devils vaulted the Orange to the top ranking and placed Jim Boeheim and company clearly on the short list of title contenders. All was well in central New York.
A little too well for some fans. Too much good for a base that knows all too well the bad is always lurking.
And that's why it seemed almost too perfect a setting for Notre Dame, the Monday after the Saturday epic between the Devils and the Orange last winter, to slink into the dome and walk out with a stolen victory.
That is if it wasn't for
Tyler Terry Taylor Trevor Cooney, though.
The then-sophomore canned nine treys, tying a school record, all seemingly coming at a time in the game where it looked like the Irish was rolling. Actually, the ninth bomb for Cooney capped an 11-3 SU run that basically put Notre Dame's upset bid out of reach. Which is amazing, considering no other Syracuse player scored more than nine points against the Irish -- Cooney's 33 being over half of the team's total.
Trevor Cooney won that game, right? THAT'S what this guy can do!
At 22-0 and No. 1 in the nation, Syracuse was a clearly flawed King for the Moment last year, just waiting to be plucked off the throne. Cooney himself came into the game shooting about 25 percent from deep in ACC play to that point and SU as a team was simply struggling to put the ball in the basket. But Cooney's night against the Irish -- 9 of 12 from three and 11 of 15 overall from the field -- and that previous Saturday against Duke had people thinking the Orange was a fully-loaded team, again. He being the difference maker, or rather, his shot being the difference maker.
Then Cooney cooled off, again. From the next game out, against Clemson to the start of the NCAA tournament, Cooney made 18 of 72 attempts from deep -- with some 2 of 10 and 3 of 10 days mixed in there. And while the nonconference was fairly kind to him last year, Cooney shot just about 30 percent from three for his ACC play in 2014 -- which includes that 9 of 12 barrage against Notre Dame. So, those end-of-season struggles were kind of par for the entire course.
Trevor Cooney shot SU right out of games, right?
Fair or not, shooters become targets of fans -- Greg Monroe...Matt Roe...Preston Shumpert....Gerry McNamara....Andy Rautins -- because a hot shooter is probably more compelling than even an athletic dunker. A big man? He needs time. A shooter can get off the bus from his hometown and hit from wherever whenever. There's also an element of "I can do that!" to it, too, which probably causes people to criticize so readily. Either way, a few made baskets in a row by a single player galvanizes people, and a few misses in a row by a single player leads people to look for the nearest cliff.
Yet, even the most hot-headed Orange follower isn't going to blame The Collapse of 2014 on one Trevor Cooney alone. Was Cooney a cog in that disjointed anemic offensive machine? Oh, absolutely. But the blame can certainly be spread around to any and all -- from players to coaches. But Trevor Cooney, or more accurately, Trevor Cooney's shooting, gets more heat than anyone or anything else. And that's not likely to change soon, especially after his 0-for day against Carleton and subsequent struggles against Adrian.
We all know he is a shooter. A consistent one? No way. Nope. N-O. But the kid from Delaware has had some "Oh, man, Cooney is on fire!" type of games in his two years on the Hill. Sure, that Notre Dame game was his best, but without Cooney's ten threes in the first two rounds of the Maui Invitational last November Syracuse likely doesn't go undefeated in Hawaii. Seriously, he was only a sophomore last year and still averaged double figures (12.3) and swiped close to two steals a game as well. Oh, and he did average over 37 percent on his three-point attempts for 2013-14, which isn't too shabby. There have been some moments.
The sky should still be the limit here.
But if the heat of the 2014 kitchen got to Cooney, just wait until we get to the meat of the schedule again this time. With the difference being the junior two guard is now something of a leader, who doesn't have the benefit of C.J. Fair taking off some of the pressure but does have the same issue of being the lone "outside threat" that defenses key on. We've seen him unconsciously hit from deep like he was a character in NBA Jam, so we know he can do it. And when set, how many shooters in college have a better form? Not many is the answer.
The problem for Cooney, really, is probably two fold. 1) He's kind of a victim of his own successes. Had he not looked SO good at times as a sophomore, he'd probably get more of a free pass. "Oh, he's still figuring things out, he'll get there." And 2) this program, for whatever reason (players leaving early being a big factor), hasn't supplied him with much help. Last year, Syracuse averaged about 68 points-per-game, the lowest average for a season in Boeheim's tenure. Where Cooney made 90 threes total in 2013-14, the next closest Orange man was Tyler Ennis at 30 makes from distance. Tough to score when everything is so bottled up in the paint.
Which brings us to this season, to Friday.
Cooney isn't going to be The Man all the time, but he'll have his attempts to win or lose games again. Will it be like last year and be just his shots or will Kaleb Joseph step up and be a reliable help eventually? Ron Patterson certainly made his case for more playing time in the exhibition win over Carleton, but was that a Mookie-Jones type fluke? Could having Rakeem Christmas as the focal point of the offense create an inside-outside type of game - freeing up jump shooters for open looks off of cuts and screens? Something has to give for Cooney and company if they're going to even be a fringe contender.
At this point there is little question, results in 2014-15 will be once again be heavily dependent on junior Trevor Cooney. If he makes at a better clip often, even if it's scoring in transition and not just on threes, Syracuse very will could be in a better position this coming March than it was the previous March. Sharpshooters aren't just theater, they're a lifeline and a deathblow. They can change outcomes of games, just ask Notre Dame. Of course, that goes both ways, too. Just ask Syracuse fans.