The Syracuse Orange shook off a slow start and opened their 2014-15 campaign on Sunday afternoon at the Carrier Dome with a win, beating the Carleton Ravens 76-68 in the season-opening exhibition.
As to be expected in a season-opener (this wasn't Carleton's opener), Syracuse was rusty out of the gate, shooting only 39% in the first half and falling behind by as many as 15 points.
But the Orange stormed back and, in the game's final 22 minutes, went on a 54-31 run -- and, yes, I'm calling that a run. Syracuse was able to grab a 54-52 lead at the 11:20 mark on a Ron Patterson dunk and, after that, never again trailed.
"You've gotta show what your made of. Tonight, we used that speech at halftime...This is a good team, a well-coached team. They make some plays," Jim Boeheim said on overcoming the deficit.
The comeback took a real team effort, which was nice to see. The two freshmen, whom we've all been anxious to see in live game action, didn't disappoint in their debuts.
In 26 minutes, Kaleb Joseph went 7-of-9 for a team-high 19 points and added four assists. Chris McCullough, Syracuse's lone five-star recruit in the 2014 class, scored 15 of his own and pulled down six rebounds.
"It was a great experience. I could have never imagined this happening. It was fun," Joseph said. "It was great to be out there with my teammates and come back...It shows a lot of character by our guys, and I'm real happy with everybody."
Paterson also provided a much-needed lift early in the second half when, in a three minute span, he made three of his four three-pointers on the day, the third of which pulled Syracuse to within a basket.
"It felt good. I didn't play that much last year, so it felt good to have an exhibition game under my belt and have a good game," said Patterson afterwards.
In a game that featured a number of players that we didn't see much of last season (or, in some cases, didn't see any of last season), Syracuse trotted out just two returning starters: Rakeem Christmas and Trevor Cooney. The two of them each struggled badly in the first half, combining for just two points and zero made field goals.
But Christmas, whose slow start could be attributed mostly to foul trouble (he had three in the first half), was able to turn it around in the second half. He finished with 13 points, two of which came on a momentum-changing, two-handed dunk that gave the Orange a 62-58 lead with just under eight minutes to play.
"I came out slow in the beginning but, in the second half, tried to turn it up. I just gotta learn from the mistakes I made," said Christmas.
Cooney, meanwhile, didn't improve as the game progressed. He finished 0-for-6 from the field.
Still, there's plenty of reason to feel encouraged from what we saw. Cooney is inconsistent -- we already knew that. Three of the real questions coming into today, for me, were: 1) How will the freshmen look?; 2) Is Rakeem Christmas really as improved as Boeheim has indicated?; and 3) Which player that wasn't a regular last season can provide another scoring option this season?
The answers to those questions, at least after today: 1) Great!; 2) I think so!; and 3) Ron Patterson.
It was only one game -- an exhibition, nonetheless -- but I feel better about this team now than I felt when I woke up. The Ravens are a good team, and after a slow start, the Orange blew them out of the water. This season has the potential to be really, really fun.
Syracuse's second of two exhibition games is slated for next Monday night, when they welcome the Adrian Bulldogs to the Dome.