Thanksgiving is next Thursday, and after today, Syracuse fans had better be feeling thankful for Christmas. Rakeem Christmas, that is.
Christmas led all Syracuse players in scoring for the second consecutive game (this time with 15 points) and grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds as his Syracuse Orange improved to 2-0 with a 65-47 win against the Hampton Pirates in the second round of the 2K Classic.
"Coach just wants everyone to play off me," Christmas said. "Whenever we get the ball down there, I just go attack the rim if they're not double teaming. If they are, I kick it to the shooters."
Christmas was the lone consistent bright spot in an otherwise ugly win for the Orange, who shot just 41 percent from the field and who were nearly outrebounded by the Pirates.
And don't let the final score fool you, either; in a game in which the Orange were struggling throughout to separate itself from Hampton, SU needed all that Christmas provided. The Pirates were even able to pull within 45-40 with nine minutes left in the second half.
But that's when Trevor Cooney made his second of two three-pointers on the evening, putting his team ahead by eight and shifting momentum back into Syracuse's favor. It was an especially important make for Cooney, who has been struggling with his shot since the middle of last season.
"He's going to be aggressive. He was aggressive the whole game," head coach Jim Boeheim said on Cooney. "He's not getting a lot of good looks, but he's going to be aggressive and he'll get his shots...Nobody needs to worry about Trevor Cooney. He'll be fine."
Starting with Cooney's trey, Syracuse went on a 13-2 run to finally pull away from Hampton. The run was capped by back-to-back three-point plays by Michael Gbinije and Chris McCullough, giving the Orange a 58-42 lead with just two and a half minutes remaining. McCullough finished with 13 points (4-of-7), four rebounds, and three blocks.
Gbinije, who missed Friday night's opener for undisclosed reasons (Boeheim refused to discuss why Gbinije didn't dress), was making his season debut. Along with that three-point play, he also made a triple to put Syracuse ahead by 18 with just over a minute remaining.
"I thought he played well. I thought in the second half, obviously, to make those two plays...you know, big for his confidence," Boeheim said on Gbinije. "He can score, and he's been scoring. And he's capable of scoring. And that's important for us, and for him. We need another guy that can score, and I think he can do that."
Next up for the Orange: a trip to New York City and Madison Square Garden for the final rounds of the 2K Classic. Also competing for the tournament championship will be the No. 10 Texas Longhorns, the sneaky-good Iowa Hawkeyes, and the California Golden Bears, who, as of right now, are still trying to get back in this.
"We're gonna get tested. I'm personally excited for it. I'm ready for it, and I think we'll do well," Gbinije said.
Syracuse will first take on Cal at 9:00 p.m. on Thursday before meeting either the loser (if the Orange lose on Thursday) or the winner (if the Orange win on Thursday) of the Iowa/Texas game on Friday. Thursday's games and Friday's championship will be broadcast on ESPN2, while Friday's consolation game will be televised on ESPNU.