Both Jersey kids. Both freshmen. Both 6-foot-6 guards. Both tormented the Virginia Cavaliers’ stingy defense.
First, it was Malachi Richardson in the Elite Eight. He scored 23 points and torched Malcolm Brogdon, the ACC’s Player of the Year. Virginia blew a 16-point second-half lead and the Orange advanced to the Final Four in Houston.
And now, it was Tyus Battle’s turn.
Battle channeled his inner Malachi Richardson for the Syracuse Orange on Saturday. He scored a season-high 23 points on 7-of-11 from the floor, including 3-of-6 from 3-point range. But it was more than that.
Take away Battle’s number 25 jersey and Malachi’s 23 jersey — and you couldn’t tell much difference. Well, maybe the hair — but the style of play was so incredibly similar.
Battle, who has struggled the past few games, broke out of his slump and showed off every asset of his game. He hit from 3-point range at a high percentage, drove to the basket with ease and also went 6-of-8 from the charity stripe.
Virginia simply couldn’t guard him.
Jim Boeheim called it Battle’s best performance of the season, and it came against the best defense Syracuse will likely see all year, too.
This also put Syracuse back in consideration for the NCAA Tournament. The Orange won its fourth straight game, but more importantly improved to 15-9 overall and 7-4 in ACC play. Both are respectable, especially with where Syracuse was at one point during the season.
Battle was terrific, and Syracuse needed every last bit of his performance. Early in the first half when the Orange was struggling to find any offense, it was Battle who hit a few tough shots to assist an early 7-0 run to tie the game at nine.
All six of his free throws came in the second half, and 13 of his 23 points came in the latter 20 minutes. It was similar to Malachi’s performance in the sense that the Orange needed his killer scoring mentality down the stretch. And it got just that.
As for Battle’s overall game, his mid-range and outside shooting is much better than I anticipated it would be. We all knew Tyus as a freak athlete who can get virtually anywhere he wanted on a basketball court. But his ability to shoot really opens up his game.
Enjoy this kid they call Tyus. There’s no telling how long he’ll be playing in the Carrier Dome.