On Saturday night, the Syracuse Orange men's basketball team sat in the middle of a proverbial fork in the road.
The options? Come out on the right side of a much-needed win or fall into the well of irrelevancy, a season lost when expectations were so high.
Prior to playing Wake Forest, Syracuse lost their last two games in humiliating fashion at Duke and Pitt. The team needed not just a win but a definitive one to prove that this team can play up to the potential many analysts and fans had for them before the season began.
To make the stakes even higher for Syracuse, reining 2021 NBA champion and finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and his brother Thanasis, were in attendance via an invitation from Adam Weitsman, a well-known local businessman and super fan of Syracuse basketball.
With all eyes on Cuse, surrounded by a crowd of 23,000 fans, Syracuse had to show out and prove they were worth the pre-season hype.
And show out they did.
When the final buzzer sounded, Syracuse beat Wake forest 94-72 behind a 30 point performance from Buddy Boeheim and an 18 point, 4 rebound outing from Cole Swider.
While the starting rotation was connecting on all cylinders, the key to this Syracuse win which makes fans optimistic about the remaining 10 games of the regular season was the impact the bench had when they saw the floor Saturday night along with the effort collectively on defense.
In their most impactful performance of the season, Syracuse’s bench combined for 15 points, led by Frank Anselem who scored 7 points on 3-3 shooting from the field, all in the first half.
Frank Anselem has 7 points. That's a career-high for the sophomore center.— Mike Waters (@MikeWatersSYR) January 30, 2022
SU down 39-37 after a Girard 3.
When Jesse Edwards, who finished the contest with 12 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 block got his fourth foul of the game in the last ten minutes of the second half, Coach Boeheim deployed the back-up big man Anselem when the team needed him most, and he stepped up to make an impact on defense in Edwards absence.
Syracsue is rollig but Jesse Edwards just picked up his fourth foul. He’s played since about the 18 minute mark with three. Frank Anselem in. First sub of the half.— Thomas Cook (@thomas_cook11) January 30, 2022
Syracuse 76 | Wake Forest 56 | 7:35 2H @CitrusTVSports
Syracuse also saw the return of Symir Torrence, who was out one game due to a right knee injury, who scored 2 points on 1-1 shooting while also collecting 2 assists in 6 minutes of action. Freshman Benny Williams also found a way to make an impact for Syracuse Saturday night grabbing 3 rebounds while also collecting a steal in 10 minutes of play. However, the most surprising players to come off the bench were utility players Arthur Cordes and Paddy Casey, who saw action in the last minute of the contest when it was clear Syracuse was going to win the game.
Boeheim in the final minute decided to go deep into his bench, allowing his deeper bench players to see the floor, and
Casey Cordes specifically took advantage of the opportunity and hit a buzzer-beater three-pointer to cap off an electric night inside of the dome.
Arthur Cordes beats the buzzer! pic.twitter.com/kkJHQtzWbU— Syracuse Men’s Basketball (@Cuse_MBB) January 30, 2022
Syracuse played the most cohesive basketball of their entire season, specifically defensively, as coach Boeheim referenced in the post-game press conference.
“Defense is key and we were better, we were just better on defense,” Boeheim said. “We've said all year I mean it’s pretty common knowledge we just haven't been as good defensively as we need to be and this was a really good outing and hopefully we can carry this forward to NC state.”
Hopefully, Syracuse continues to utilize their bench more often going into these last ten games of the season along with continuing to play strong team-oriented defense as we saw Saturday night in the most fun Syracuse game to watch all season.