Friday night’s exhibition game versus the Daemen Wildcats in the JMA Wireless Dome marked a turning point for the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team — the program’s first* win under new head coach Adrian Autry.
The new look edition of this year’s team shined across the board in a 81-68 win over the Wildcats, Syracuse’s first of two exhibition games prior to the start of the upcoming season. Following an offseason makeover to the roster and a changing of the guard at the head of the program, the game versus Daemen gave Orange fans their first look at how this year’s team will look the rest of the way.
Of course, the big story of Friday’s game was who was notably absent from the rotation — Judah Mintz, the Orange’s preseason All-ACC second team superstar guard who suffered a “mild lower body injury” earlier this week during practice. Since this was just an exhibition game, we imagine Autry is taking the extra precaution (Writer’s note: fingers crossed this isn’t anything too serious).
Syracuse rolled out a starting lineup of J.J. Starling, Chris Bell, Justin Taylor, Benny Williams and Naheem McLeod to kick things off in the Dome.
Mintz or not, the rest of the Orange stepped up to the plate against Daemen. McLeod threw down this alley-oop slam off the pass from Starling to give the Orange their first (unofficial) basket of the 2023-2024 season:
Across the board, the Orange’s new additions proved to look great out of the gate. Every starter with the exception of Bell scored at least a basket by the first media timeout as Syracuse jumped out to an early 13-8 lead. Two of Syracuse’s most notable transfer portal acquisitions, Starling and McLeod, connected on several pick-and-rolls and each had their moments.
Starling played all 40 minutes and finished with 10 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists while McLeod ended up with 8 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks in 15 minutes. Another one of Syracuse’s promising offseason adds, Kyle Cuffe. Jr., received the extra minutes and made the most of his on-court playing time with 11 points (3/6 from three), 4 rebounds and 3 steals in 22 minutes off the bench.
Also give credit to Syracuse’s current sophomore contributors like Quadir Copeland (12 points, 5 rebounds and 9 assists in 31 minutes), Taylor (12 points, 4/8 from three) and Maliq Brown (10 points and 2 blocks in six minutes), who are all looking to serve more of a consistent role for this year’s Orange.
Speaking of Maliq Brown, Autry was not shy from changing his on-court strategy. The Orange played mostly man-to-man but occasionally switched briefly to the classic 2-3 zone. McLeod started, but Brown showed his value at the five in Syracuse’s small-ball lineups. The big takeaway is that this year’s Orange are going to be aggressive defensively at the point of attack and use their combination of length and athleticism to get out in transition.
After by four points early, Syracuse sprinted ahead and outscored the Wildcats by 17 points en route to a 49-27 halftime lead. Four players scored eight or more points for the Orange in the first half, led by Taylor’s 12 points on 4/6 shooting:
Daemen cut the Orange’s lead to as low as 15 points at the halfway point of the second half, but even with some missed rotations and an extra few good looks given up, Syracuse’s defense still held the Wildcats to under 42% shooting from the field. The Orange outscored the Wildcats 48-22 in points in the paint and 28-9 in fast break points.
Syracuse will take the court for one more home exhibition game against the College of St. Rose on Wednesday, November 1 at 7 p.m. Autry and the Orange will make their official debut for the 2023-2024 season in T-minus 10 days and counting.
Now it’s your turn: what are your first impressions from this year’s Orange after playing Daemen? Leave all your thoughts down below: there’s a lot to discuss.