For seven minutes in the second half of Tuesday night the Syracuse Orange men's basketball team played to its potential, but it wasn't enough to overcome a double-digit deficit as the No. 17-ranked Michigan Wolverines collected a 68-65 home victory in a non-conference showdown at the Crisler Center.
Trailing 58-48 with less than seven minutes to play, the Orange rallied to within one point and had two chances to win the game in the closing minute, but two turnovers, both by a pair of freshmen, doomed any chance of finishing the exciting comeback.
Trailing by one in the closing moments, Syracuse (5-2) put Michigan (6-1) on the free-throw line twice for one-and-one conversion attempts. Both times the Wolverines missed the front end and gave the Orange a chance to steal the win, but freshman forward Chris McCullough tossed the ball away after collecting the rebound–his intended pass to freshman point guard Kaleb Joseph was too long; then, after Michigan's second miss, Joseph seemingly dribbled the ball off his foot trying to setup a go-ahead score and the home team collected the loose ball.
After a pair of Wolverine free throws gave them a three-point lead, Syracuse's last-chance attempt fell short when Joseph's 3-pointer air-balled.
Both key Syracuse mistakes were a part of a 19-turnover performance for Syracuse, which helped Michigan turn a three-point halftime deficit to its double-digit advantage.
Junior Trevor Cooney led the come-from-behind charge in the second half scoring 14 of his team-best 16 points, which included him nailing four 3-pointers. McCullough also was a key in the frantic effort to make it game, as he again tallied a double-double–10 points and 12 rebounds.
Senior Rakeem Christmas paced Syracuse in first-half scoring netting 11 of his 15 points during the first 20 minutes. He ended the game with six rebounds and two blocks.
For Michigan, it was the play of sixth-man, junior guard Spike Albrecht, who came off the bench to score the game-winning basket with 34 seconds remaining to go. Albrecht's NBA-range, 3-point make gave the Wolverines a 66-63 lead.
The Wolverines spark plug was fantastic in the second half and ended the game with 11 points and a career-best nine assists. Zak Irvin netted a game-best 18 points, which included four 3-pointers, for Michigan. Ricky Doyle also scored double-digits off the bench (12 points), while Caris LeVert (12 points) and Kameron Chatman (10) reached double figures in scoring.
Overall, Michigan turned the ball over just seven times and overcame trailing at halftime by shooting 8-for-15 from behind the 3-point line in the second half. The Wolverines finished 11-for-33 behind the arc.
In the end, the effort was a solid one for Syracuse. Sure, 19 turnovers is bad, especially when about a dozen of them literally sparked the home team to victory, but for a period of time in the second half the Orange were a top 25 team. Heck, they might have been playing at a top 15 level, and if they can build to sustain that for 30 minutes, they will be the team we think they could be.
Cooney, FINALLY, found his shooting stroke and without him this game would have been a double-digit loss. Instead, SU had a pair of legit chances to steal a victory on the road. It just wasn't meant to be as the growing pains of having a bunch of freshmen and flaky sophomores reared its ugly head.