Before Syracuse went on a second half rampage en route to a 67-46 win over Cornell on Saturday, the Orange actually trailed 32-30 with 19:16 to play. That's when Mike Hopkins inserted Tyler Lydon for Dajuan Coleman, placing Lydon on the floor with Michael Gbinije, Trevor Cooney, Malachi Richardson and Tyler Roberson.
Hopkins has seemed to be puzzlingly reluctant to turn to that lineup since taking over as the Orange's temporary head coach, but he wasn't on Saturday, and it paid off. The use of the lineup, which has been Syracuse's most effective all season, sparked a furious 23-4 SU run over a roughly 12-minute span to put the Big Red away. During those 12 minutes, the Orange did just about everything well; they were particularly active defensively and, thanks to Cooney, they finally began to make their 3s.
Afterward, Hopkins said he felt his team played as well defensively in the second half as it had all season. At the top of the 2-3 zone, Cooney and Gbinije were able to consistently deny entry passes into the high post while also doing enough to run Cornell's shooters off the 3-point line, as the Big Red went 0-of-5 from 3 during Syracuse's 23-4 run.
It was something SU often failed to do Sunday in its 84-72 loss at St. John's, and Gbinije credited the difference to simply a higher level of effort.
"It's tough," he said. "If you go too far in the high post, they're kicking it out for 3s. If you don't go far enough, they're getting it in there, so it's just finding that happy medium."
In the frontcourt, meanwhile, Lydon and Roberson teamed up to protect the rim exceptionally well. Against Cornell's small lineup, the two 6-foot-8 forward actually had a size advantage for once, something they made the most of. They combined for four blocks during SU's big run, three of which came in the paint, and altered several other shots.
"That was, I thought, the difference in the game," Hopkins said.
But perhaps the real difference was that Hopkins' team finally began to make some shots. After shooting only 38.7% from the field and a meager 23.1% from beyond the arc in the first half, Syracuse shot 4-of-7 from 3 during the run.
Cooney did most of that damage, making all three of his attempts from deep, the first of which gave the Orange a 33-32 lead and the third of which stretched that lead to 47-36. That essentially put the game out of reach for Cornell, even with nearly 13 minutes to play.
"Trevor made them pay," Hopkins said. "Trevor was a big defibrillator boost in the second half."
Each of Cooney's made 3s were assisted, twice by Gbinije and once by Richardson. That likely wasn't by coincidence, either. Entering Saturday, 87% of Cooney's made 3s had been assisted, according to Hoop-Math. That was the highest mark of Syracuse's three high volume shooters — Cooney, Gbinije and Richardson.
And while Cooney is still shooting just 32.5% from 3 on the season, he's seemed to generally be efficient in catch-and-shoot scenarios, rather than when he's tried to create for himself.
"Whenever we can find (Cooney) in transition or drive-and-kick situations, I think that's best," Gbinije said.
Those transition and drive-and-kick opportunities have presented themselves most often this season when Syracuse has implemented the lineup that allowed it to make its run on Saturday. And as the evidence continues to stockpile in favor of that lineup clearly being the Orange's best one, it's natural to wonder whether SU should use it more frequently, or perhaps even making it the starting lineup.
With conference play looming, it's something Hopkins and Syracuse will need to at least consider. If they don't, they could very well be in for a long, long season.