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Syracuse 60, Georgia Tech 57: Defense, Inside Offense Help Orange Top Yellow Jackets

The Orange improved to 15-8 overall and 5-5 in the ACC with the win.

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

For a moment, it looked as if Adam Smith's heave from the right side of halfcourt would slip through the net and force overtime.

Instead, the ball clanked off the front of the rim and jubilation ensued in the Carrier Dome as Syracuse knocked off Georgia Tech, 60-57. The Orange improved to 15-8 overall and 5-5 in ACC play with the win.

Here's how it went down Saturday afternoon:

Defense, defense, defense

After Georgia Tech shot 44.8% from the field and 40% from 3-point range in the first half, Syracuse made an effort to extend its 2-3 zone further toward the perimeter, head coach Jim Boeheim said.

The result was a second half in which the Yellow Jackets scored only 25 points and shot just 29.6% from the field. They also went just 1-of-8 from beyond the 3-point range.

"We seldom extend that much, because it opens up the middle, but their big guys weren't doing much in there," Boeheim said. "The bigger threat was the guards."

One of those guards, Smith, is shooting 42.9% from beyond the arc, which ranks seventh among all ACC players. But in the second half, he made only one of his four attempts from deep.

Boeheim credited that to Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije, who together anchor the top of the zone.

"People overlook defense," Boeheim said. "Trevor and (Gbinije) are so good on defense. It's all overlooked because we play zone. But you have to play defense in a zone. It's not some freakin' magic."

Boeheim also credited SU's defense for allowing the Orange to overcome their miscues and escape with a win. In the final five minutes and 48 seconds, Syracuse missed five free throws, but Georgia Tech scored only six total points in the same stretch.

Working inside

Teams have generally been most successful against Georgia Tech this season when they've attacked the basket, and that held true today for Syracuse, a team that typically does most of its damage from the perimeter.

The Orange scored 30 points in the paint and had 21 free throw attempts, which were mostly a result of players attacking the rim.

Much of that could be credited to Dajuan Coleman and Malachi Richardson, who combined to score 14 points in the paint and made a total of seven free throws.

Coleman was especially active in the first half, when he accounted for each of his four made field goals. On multiple occasions, he scored with low-post moves that he hadn't previously flashed.

"He finished very well," Boeheim said of the center. "... He's making progress, I think."

For Richardson, it took until the second half for him to assert himself. After not scoring at all in the first 20 minutes, he registered 13 points in the second half.

Late in the game, with Syracuse trailing 55-53, Richardson knifed into the lane, scored the tying layup and got fouled. He missed the free throw, but it was indicative of the second half he played. The change started in the locker room at halftime, Richardson said.

"(Boeheim) was on me, telling me to be aggressive and get to the basket," he said.

Howard's best game yet

The first assist came with 8:35 to play in the first half, when he facilitated a Tyler Roberson dunk in transition. Another one came at the 5:04 mark, when his no-look dish found an open Coleman in the low post. Fifty-three seconds later, he hit Roberson with a laser from the top of the key, which Roberson calmly laid in.

Franklin Howard had a career-high six assists on Saturday, and he did it in only 14 minutes of play. For a Syracuse team with the shortest rotation among all Division I teams, Howard's productivity was a welcome sign.

"All the good Syracuse teams have had a spark coming off the bench, and he could be that for us," Cooney said of Howard. "And he was today."


Early in the second half, Gbinije flew up the court on a breakaway but lost the ball — because he got poked in both eyes. But no foul was called, and play continued as Gbinije sat on Georgia Tech's baseline.

Moments later, Georgia Tech was called for a backcourt violations, and the officials awarded possession to Syracuse. But after deliberating for several minutes, they then awarded the ball to the Yellow Jackets, claiming the whistle had been inadvertent.

Through it all, the Carrier Dome crowd became restless. Most of the fans booed, while the student section chanted, "We want basketball!"

For his part, Gbinije was forced to leave the game. He said he couldn't even open his eyes "for a minute or two."

The entire situation — the no-call after Gbinije was poked, the indecisiveness of the referees and the ensuing long delays — was hectic and unlike anything I've ever witnessed live.

"It was just confusing," Cooney said. "It doesn't happen every day in basketball."