On more than one occasion this season, Tyler Roberson's future in Orange has been called into question. The junior forward's inconsistencies and at-times-lackluster performances have cast so much doubt over him, that even his own head coach has publicly declared him maddeningly unpredictable.
It had gotten so bad, that the Syracuse Orange sound waves had even been lit up with the idea that Roberson might transfer away from the school for his senior season to get out of Jim Boeheim's "dog house".
But here's the thing about a player who is "frustratingly inconsistent": that term implies that the good performances are in there somewhere. We know this because we've seen it in action this season. We watched Roberson put up 14 points and 20 rebounds against Duke, helping Syracuse to possibly its biggest win of the season and breaking a Cameron Indoor Stadium record for rebounds in a game in the process.
A few games later, we saw him record 12 points and 15 rebounds in an overtime victory over Virginia Tech, a game in which the Orange didn't lead until the extra period and one that was crucial to Syracuse's season.
In between, though, we saw way too many "so-so" performances from Tyler Roberson, like when he finished with five points and four rebounds against Louisville, or seven points and four rebounds in the road loss to Florida State.
These types of back-and-forths in his performances are the reason why Jim Boeheim gets so frustrated with him. He knows what Roberson can do when he's in #ReboundMode (trademark).
That "mode" is exactly what the Syracuse Orange got out of Tyler Roberson on Friday afternoon, as he helped lead the Orange to a 70-51 victory over the Dayton Flyers in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, finally enacting revenge on the Flyers from their victory over the Orange almost exactly two years ago.
The story of this game really begins on the glass, where Syracuse dominated Dayton all afternoon to the tune of a 48-28 advantage. It may not be a coincidence that the plus-20 rebounding margin for Syracuse almost exactly coincides with Roberson's individual rebounding total: he finished with 18 by himself. He really was the difference maker on the boards for Syracuse in this one.
It is no secret that rebounding has been a big issue for this Syracuse team all season long. The Orange ranked 14th in the ACC in rebounding margin this season at -1.4 per game. In fact, in his on-court interview on CBS following the game, Jim Boeheim came right out and categorized rebounding as a "weakness" for his team.
That means we must have been in "bizarro world" in St. Louis on Friday, because Syracuse controlled the glass, and along with it, the tempo of the game.
In the post-game press conference, Boeheim called the team rebounding "tremendous," and said that it was so huge for the team because it eliminated Dayton's second-chance opportunities.
He also took the opportunity to single out Tyler Roberson, this time for his positive performance. Here's what he had to say about his leading rebounder:
"It's really a huge key for us for him to be able to do that. And I thought he did a good job offensively, moving and screening and doing some other things. And he was good in the half-court defense. He was helping. I thought, again, he was tremendous tonight".
And then, he brought up the most important part:
"We need him to be consistent. That's a huge key for us".
That statement, perhaps, defines Tyler's Roberson's first three years at Syracuse. We do need him to be more consistent. We don't necessarily need him to come within one of tying the Orange's NCAA Tournament record for rebounds in a game on an every-game basis, but we do need him to come out and play with the energy and aggressiveness that he had today.
If he can at least do that with more consistency, then he can almost single-handedly give Syracuse a chance to remain in any game we play. Let's hope he does it again on Sunday against Middle Tennessee State (what?!).
Some quick bits from Friday's game:
Near the end of the game, the CBS broadcast showed a statistic about how many dunks/layups Dayton had missed: 14. That is an incredible amount of missed opportunities in one game.
You can argue that Syracuse's defense in the paint played a role in causing those misses, and to some extent it may have, but any way you slice it, Dayton repeatedly shot themselves in the foot on Sunday afternoon. In my opinion, the Flyers' miscues were the second biggest storyline to Syracuse's rebounding advantage.
While Syracuse had an excellent day at the free throw line, going 20-for-23 (.870), Dayton could add free throws to their list of miscues. The Flyers shot 9-of-19 (.474) from the line. Ouch.
Syracuse's plus-20 rebounding advantage was its second-best rebound margin of the season. The only higher total came way back on December 19, when the Orange out-muscled Cornell on the boards, 48-27, a plus-21 margin.
Tyler Roberson's 18 rebounds tied him for second in most rebounds in a Syracuse NCAA Tournament game. He finished one shy on Derrick Coleman's 19 from the 1987 NCAA Championship game against Indiana.
Malachi Richardson is the first Syracuse freshman to score 20-plus points in an NCAA Tournament game since Carmelo Anthony in the 2003 NCAA Title game.
This was Jim Boeheim's 50th win in the NCAA Tournament (he had four tourney wins vacated with the NCAA sanctions last year). He broke a tie with his longtime friend/foe Jim Calhoun and is now in sole possession of fifth place on the all-time list.