It was ugly and flawed and thrilling and nearly vomit-inducing. But boy, was it satisfying.
Regardless, your Syracuse Orange are now 13-7 overall, and riding a three-game winning streak after beating the 12th-ranked Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Arena on Monday night. While it's not exactly "payback" for the phantom foul on CJ Fair and the Jim Boeheim ejection from February 2014, it certainly feels as if justice was served for an Orange team desperately in need of a resume victory. This was it, no matter how odd the circumstances of the finish were... or weren't.
What we saw before the final seconds was, as mentioned, ugly and flawed. Both Syracuse and Duke began the game ice cold from the floor, with SU failing to finish at the rim and the Blue Devils struggling from three. Each would settle in a bit, as the game rocked back and forth before swinging Syracuse's direction mid-way through the second half and somehow staying there. Once the Orange improbably grabbed a 43-41 lead by way of a Malachi Richardson three, however, that was far from the end of the story.
To be honest, this story COULD HAVE been way different too, had a review not revealed a late Duke miss to end the first half. Had the (likely two) points gone in, We'd technically be looking at a tie game to end regulation, before another thrilling OT contest between these two teams. Alas, it wasn't to be -- a gift for your health and mine.
But the individual performances that Syracuse received from its cast of characters were about as exhilarating and frustrating as they come, all at the same time. While Trevor Cooney hit four big threes, he also went just 4-for-15 from the floor with a couple air balls. Michael Gbinije scored 14 points of his own and added nine assists, but had three fouls in the first half and four turnovers on the game. Tyler Lydon's big threes were counter-balanced by a 3-for-9 shooting performance. And the hero of the game, Tyler Roberson, paired his 20 (!!!) rebounds with several missed layups and an 0-for-3 line on free throws.
That's not to take away from what they did tonight, however. Between the Battle 4 Atlantis, tough start to the ACC schedule, Jim Boeheim suspension and more, this Syracuse team has been through quite the season already. Yet, they came into one of the sport's more imposing arenas and played basketball well enough to win. The fact that they did so despite flaws is sort of the epitome of this group for much of the season. Few games have been flawless. But against just about everybody (shut up, St. John's and Georgetown), the Orange have stuck around by any means necessary. Things didn't work out against Miami or Pitt or North Carolina. But they did against Duke tonight. And as a result, Syracuse is well on its way to fixing the start that had much of this fan base running for lifeboats not too long ago.
We're far from done with the tests and land mines that come with playing in the ACC, of course. And Syracuse travels to Charlottesville to face a typically tough Virginia team this coming Saturday. Still, there's simply no way to look at this team the same way you did a week ago, and that has to be seen as progress.