Up 57-43 with a little over eight minutes left, one would have thought the Syracuse Orange could just play shut-down defense and coast their way to a victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes. Nope. Not even close.
A series of costly errors and defensive lapses followed, Iowa's Jarrod Uthoff (and others) got hot, and the Hawkeyes actually did get right back in this, cutting the SU lead to 63-62 with just eight second left. Despite some missed free throws from Rakeem Christmas, though, Syracuse held on and earned themselves a 66-63 win and a third-place finish at the 2K Classic.
3rd Place. 2K Classic. No. 1 in Our Hearts. #SUtShirtIdeas— NunesMagician.com (@NunesMagician) November 22, 2014
For the first 30 minutes and change, however, this was a different Orange team from the disaster we saw run off the floor against California on Thursday night. Chris McCullough and Rakeem Christmas led the way for much of the contest, combing for 38 points on 10-of-14 shooting and 16 rebounds. Here and there, Trevor Cooney (or whichever Cooney showed up today) also proved to be an offensive option, scoring 14 points (including three three-pointers). Other than those three, though... wow. 14 points from the rest of the group -- five from Tyler Roberson (though six rebounds), seven from Kaleb Joseph (but five turnovers) and two from Michael Gbinije (though seven boards).
On the negative side, Joseph spent both MSG games proving that he is VERY MUCH a freshman point guard -- especially today with some poor shot selection and those aforementioned five turnovers. The execution will come, sure, but in the meantime, we need to have other options to handle the ball. We don't right now, which is why only seven (?!?!?!?!) players saw the court, I guess?
Sooooo: the team showed up on defense for a large portion of this game, but also hammered home the point that this offense will run through Christmas, and that without him the defense isn't nearly as good (that inside-outside game and ball movement murdered the Orange without the senior on the court). We've learned a few things about this team so far, but plenty more to go. I'm willing to let things continue to develop. But unless someone develops a consistent jump shot AND takes some of the pressure off of Christmas on the defensive end, we're likely going to be dealing with all of this for awhile.
Nice job on the win, Syracuse. You showed for 32 minutes that you could suffocate a team with defense, and then for another eight, that you could hang on (barely). That's good, even if not great. And a 1-1 record coming out of this tournament was probably what most expected (albeit with a win over Cal and a loss to Texas, probably). The Orange are off until Tuesday, when they'll take on Loyola (Md.) at home and try to grab their second two-game winning streak of the season.
Anything else that should have been mentioned above (or will be mentioned in a more extensive recap later/tomorrow)? Leave those thoughts below.