Reminiscent of games at Villanova and at Virginia Tech earlier this season, Syracuse nearly squandered a 61-48 lead in the final two minutes. Like in the Villanova and Virginia Tech games, Syracuse struggled shooting free throws down the stretch, going 8-of-16 from the charity stripe in those last two minutes.
But three days after losing at Clemson, the Orange did just enough to avoid a two-game skid and moved to 14-5 overall on the season. That was also despite Boston College's red-hot start; the Eagles hit three-pointers on four of their first seven possessions and jumped out to a 12-4 lead.
Syracuse then ripped off a 31-5 run to end the first half, taking a 35-17 halftime lead. Much of that run came without the services of Rakeem Christmas, who committed three fouls in 15 minutes to start the game and sat out for the final 4:42 of the first half. Christmas, who would end up fouling out, played just 23 minutes in total.
"It was the first game in a long time that Rak got in really big foul trouble," said head coach Jim Boeheim. "I thought (Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney) at the end of the first half really took over. I thought they just played great."
In Christmas's absence, Cooney and Gbinije scored 15 points and 17 points, respectively. Gbinije went 7-of-12 from the field to go with eight rebounds and four assists.
For the junior, it marked the ninth time in 10 games that he's scored in double figures. He's also shooting an even 50 percent from the floor in that span.
"We came out with a win," Gbinije said. "I was aggressive tonight, and hopefully we can continue that."
Including Cooney and Gbinije, all five Syracuse starters scored at least 10 points. Big men Tyler Roberson and Christmas combined for 22 points, while Kaleb Joseph had 13 points and seven assists. The freshman point guard turned the ball over just once, and now flaunts a 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in the last seven games.
"I think we had to grow up a little bit," Joseph said on the team's mentality with Christmas out. "Guys got assertive. They didn't put their heads down. They stepped up, and everybody kind of rallied around that...I think we grew up a little bit as a team tonight."
And for the first time since the Villanova loss, Joseph found himself in the center of the action in the closing moments of a tight game, rather than sitting on the bench. In recent close games, including last Tuesday's meeting with Wake Forest, Ron Patterson got those minutes, not Joseph.
"I don't think any player wants to be on the bench in those type of moments. So I kind of made it a point to be aggressive," he said afterwards. "If I'm going to get subbed out of the game late, it's going to be because I made a mistake trying to be aggressive, not because I'm being tentative."
Joseph was part of a defensive effort that held Boston College leading scorer Olivier Hanlan to 5-of-14 shooting and just 13 points, none of which came in the first half. Aaron Brown led the way for the Eagles with a game-high 21 points and Dmitri Batten added 17. BC is still winless in conference play, though its other losses have come to Duke, Miami, Virginia, and Pittsburgh.
The Orange next play on Saturday, when it hosts Miami, a team that has been tough to figure out. The Hurricanes have home losses to Green Bay, Eastern Kentucky, and Providence but also won at Duke and took Virginia to double overtime.
Tipoff from the Carrier Dome is scheduled for 4:00pm. Catch the action on ESPN2.