Despite trailing by as many as 10 points late in the second half, the Syracuse Orange had their chances down the stretch to beat the Michigan Wolverines on Tuesday night before ultimately falling, 68-65. Here are five takeaways from the loss:
1. The Orange are getting better.
I was seriously bummed when Kaleb Joseph missed the three at the buzzer that would've forced overtime. Seriously bummed. And I still am. I wanted Syracuse to win last night, and it stings that such a good effort resulted in a loss. But it's also hard, after seeing what we saw last night, not to now feel really optimistic about this group. The Orange played a top-20 team on the road in a hostile environment and, if not for a couple of bad turnovers in the final minute, probably could have won. For a team that lost to Cal at Madison Square Garden just 12 days prior, that's a giant step forward.
2. Now that's the Trevor Cooney we could really use!
Trevor Cooney, who came into last night connecting on just over 27 percent of his three pointers, finally started hitting from deep in the second half last night. He went 4-of-7 from three in the game's final 20 minutes, helping keep Syracuse within striking distance. Of course, he won't shoot lights out on a nightly basis, but it was nice to see that 2014-15 Trevor Cooney is capable of having those types of games.
3. Things to clean up: rebounding and turnovers.
I know, I know. Syracuse actually outrebounded Michigan last night, 36-31. But the Wolverines grabbed 17 offensive rebounds -- seven more than the Orange -- and it led to far too many second chance points, which, ultimately, were probably what allowed Michigan to win. You can't give good teams second and third chances to score. You just can't. And the Orange also turned the ball over 19 times, or 12 more times than the Wolverines turned the ball over. Again, you're usually not going to get away with turning the ball over that much while simultaneously not forcing nearly as many turnovers on the other end, even if the Orange did almost get away with it.
4. Even against a quality opponent, Rakeem Christmas proved he's a viable scoring threat.
Rakeem Christmas has been scoring at, at least for Rakeem Christmas, an incredible rate this season. After scoring under six points per game last season, Christmas is leading the Orange in scoring this season at 17.3 points per game. And while it's one thing to score in the Carrier Dome against teams like Loyola and Kennesaw State, it's another thing entirely to have success on the road against a team like Michigan. But Christmas went 7-of-9 from the field last night and had 15 points, proving that, for now, his scoring outburst to start the season hasn't been misleading.
5. Freshmen gonna freshmen.
It's easy to be angry at Chris McCullough and Kaleb Joseph, each of whom had costly turnovers in the game's final 30 seconds with Syracuse trailing 66-65. And it's true: if not for those turnovers, maybe Syracuse would've won. But, remember, last night was the first collegiate road game for both. McCullough made a stupid pass. Joseph dribbled into traffic when he shouldn't have and, as a result, lost the ball. Those are freshmen mistakes that, personally, I can live with. And if you're going to blame them, blame Jim Boeheim, too. He had a timeout in his pocket that he could have and probably should have used before either one of those turnovers were committed. Tough ending to a tough loss, I know. But let's just try to keep things in perspective.