As has been the case throughout this young season, Syracuse needed a late spark to put a mid-major away on Saturday night at the Carrier Dome.
Earlier this week, it was St. Bonaventure who momentarily put the Orange on upset alert. Days before that, it was Lehigh, to a lesser degree. And on Saturday, it was Elon. Syracuse (3-0) trailed early in the second half before ultimately topping the Phoenix (2-2), 66-55.
Here are three takeaways from the Orange's win:
1. At least for now, Syracuse has found its best lineup
For a second consecutive game, Syracuse used the same lineup — consisting of Michael Gbinije, Trevor Cooney, Malachi Richardson, Tyler Roberson and Tyler Lydon — to pull away. That lineup was plus-14 in the second half on Tuesday, and it was almost as effective against Elon.
Up 31-25 early in the second half, SU head coach Jim Boeheim substituted Lydon into the game for Dajuan Coleman. Immediately following that change, it didn't take long for Elon to erase the deficit it faced, as the Phoenix quickly went on an 11-3 run to grab a 36-34 lead. After that, though, Syracuse showed why it can be so effective with that lineup on the floor, finishing the half on a 32-19 run.
With Lydon at center, Syracuse was able to spread the floor offensively in ways it couldn't when Coleman or Chino Obokoh were on the floor alongside Roberson. More importantly, the Orange were able to take advantage of that space by attacking the basket and creating scoring opportunities at the rim.
During a 12-minute run in which SU went from trailing 39-37 to taking a 63-55 lead with 1:46 to play, the Orange scored 10 points in the paint and attempted nine free throws, making all but one. Gbinije and Richardson combined to account for all of those free throws, and each trip to the line was a result of those players attacking the basket and drawing fouls.
On the defensive end, meanwhile, Lydon held his own in the middle of the 2-3 zone. In total, he registered seven defensive rebounds and four blocks, as he continues to dismiss doubts, for now, that he's too small to play that position.
Obviously, there's still plenty of season left and time for players like Coleman and Obokoh to develop. But for at least the near future, this is the lineup that Boeheim seems to be most comfortable with, and for good reason.
2. That's the Roberson Syracuse needs
Through Syracuse's first two regular season games, at least one thing was consistent: the Orange lacked a low post scoring option. Partially as a result of that, 3s accounted for 55.8 percent of their field goal attempts — tied with Duquesne for the highest clip in the country.
But that changed on Saturday, when, for at least a night against Elon, Roberson established himself as a legitimate offensive threat near the basket. He logged a game-high 20 points on 9-for-15 shooting, doing most of his work at the rim. That's especially encouraging because, entering Saturday, he was shooting a dismal 40 percent at the rim, according to Hoop-Math.
Roberson scored 16 of his 20 points when neither Coleman nor Obokoh were on the floor. That probably wasn't coincidental, given that there was more room for him to operate around the rim, with Lydon often taking his defender out of the paint.
Roberson also recorded a game-high 16 rebounds, giving Syracuse strength in an area where it's struggled this season. The Orange won the rebounding battle, 45-37.
It's important to note that Roberson did this against Elon, a small team that doesn't rebound well to begin with or have the rim protectors that many other teams on SU's schedule will have. But now there is at least some evidence that, with Roberson, Syracuse might stand a chance to hold its own in the low post this season.
3. Unless something changes, nothing will be easy for Syracuse this season
Syracuse moved to 3-0 on Saturday night, which, considering the landscape of college basketball this season, shouldn't be dismissed. So far, a number of big-name schools — North Carolina, Virginia and Wisconsin, to name a few — have suffered early season upsets.
But it's still worth pointing out that the Orange have struggled to each of these three victories, and that's something that could very well continue throughout the season. Syracuse is probably capable of beating most teams on its schedule, but it's also capable of losing to most teams on its schedule.
If the Orange go cold from 3, they'll be in trouble. If they're thoroughly dominated on the glass as they often were against St. Bonaventure, they'll be in trouble. And if they continue to turn the ball over at this rate — they committed 15 more turnovers Saturday — they'll really be in trouble.
Of course, we're about to learn a lot more about the Orange. Next up for them is a trip this week to the Bahamas, where they'll be part of a Battle 4 Atlantis field consisting of Connecticut, Gonzaga, Michigan and Texas A&M. Syracuse will be tested even more than it already has been, and that's probably a good thing.