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Report Card: Syracuse Makes Short Work of Long Beach State

After a week off for the Christmas holiday, the Syracuse Orange returned to the Carrier Dome on Sunday afternoon as they hosted Long Beach State in a nationally-televised matchup on ESPNU.

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The Orange took advantage of the 49ers' penchant for turnovers to push the tempo and ran away with an 86-67 victory over a frisky but ultimately overmatched 49ers squad.

Here is my report card from courtside:

Head of the Class: Michael Gbinije

This was the game we have been waiting for. After falling out of Jim Boeheim’s favor earlier in the season, Gbinije had arguably his best game in an Orange uniform on Sunday. He scored a career-high 24 points, tied with Rakeem Christmas for best on the team, and stuffed the stat sheet with 6 rebounds, 8 assists, and a steal in 40 minutes of play. He was super-efficient in his shooting too, going 10-13 from the field (4-6 from three), and he probably would have scored more had he not passed up a couple of open shots early in the first half. He accomplished all of this while playing small forward instead of backup point guard, utilizing his athleticism and versatility to make an impact on just about every facet of the game.

Passing Grades

Rakeem Christmas: Another day, another excellent effort from perhaps the most underrated big man in the nation. I can’t get over how much Rakeem’s game has evolved since last season. It’s like he’s a completely different guy. On Sunday he was an absolute beast, posting his 24 points on 8-11 from the floor and 8-11 from the free throw line – with 10 rebounds (6 offensive) and 2 blocks tossed in for good measure. At this point in the season he has to be the frontrunner for the ACC’s most improved player, right?

Press Defense/Transition Offense: The 49ers came into the game turning the ball over on about 20% of their possessions, a high number, and SU’s coaches had a plan to make them pay for their carelessness. It worked. Syracuse stole the ball 9 times and forced 15 Long Beach turnovers en route to 16 fast break points, many of them coming on a 22-7 first half run that broke open a tight game that LBSU led early on. SU’s press really brought the Dome crowd to life and injected some energy into a lethargic Orange attack, and they pretty much had the game in hand after that.

Stay After School

Interior Defense: Woof. As well as the Orange played on offense, their interior defense was not very good. LBSU forwards David Samuels and Eric McKnight combined to score 27 points on 12-18 shooting, and most of those attempts were of the layup or dunk variety. For all of his prowess on offense and on the boards, Christmas and his frontcourt-mates were nowhere to be found on D, allowing the 49ers unfettered access to the rim the entire afternoon. Hell, the Orange only committed 9 fouls as a team, and Christmas had zero. Normally you’d think that would be a good thing, but as I said on Twitter – you can’t foul someone if you’re nowhere near him. The saving grace for SU was their perimeter and press defense, as mentioned above, as they were able to force Long Beach into turnovers before they could get into their half court sets.

Bench Play: Boeheim only played 6 7 players the entire game, with Trevor Cooney and Gbinije each logging 40 minutes and Christmas clocking 37. Ron Patterson only existed to allow Boeheim to yell at Kaleb Joseph on the bench after the freshman made a mistake, and neither B.J. Johnson nor Chino Obokoh got into the game at all. On the other hand, Tyler Roberson made a few nice plays in 20 minutes, and finished with 6 points and 3 rebounds.

Final Grade: B

If, if, if. If Christmas, Cooney, and Gbinije can continue to put it together in the same game, SU will surprise some teams in ACC play. They’ll need help from Joseph, Roberson, and Chris McCullough – who I hadn’t even *thought* about until just now. What does that tell you?


- Trevor Cooney continued his improved shooting over the past few games, scoring 16 points on 5-11 from the field, 3-5 from three, and 3-3 from the line. He had the play of the day, hitting a shot from just inside midcourt as the first half ended, putting a charge into the crowd and sending the Orange to the locker room with plenty of momentum.

- McCullough shot a tidy 5-6 at the charity stripe, which is good. However, he could only manage 1 field goal and 2 rebounds in 23 minutes. That’s not good.

- SU allowed Long Beach to shoot 55.6% from the field in the first half, but only 37.5% in the second. They did tighten up the sieve, but the 49ers still got too many easy looks in the lane.

For a more detailed running commentary on the game and Boeheim’s post-game news conference, click on my Twitter feed.