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Syracuse men’s basketball: the Orange squeeze past Niagara 83-71 in final non-conference game

Not the prettiest win of the season... but we'll take it.

Niagara v Syracuse Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

In the final non-conference game of this regular season, the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team (9-3) rallied around Judah Mintz and the rest of the bench to secure its fourth-straight win, defeating the Niagara Purple Eagles (3-8) 83-71 on Thursday evening.

While Niagara kept things close early on, Syracuse’s bench unit sparked a 15-3 scoring run at the end of the first half to put the Orange up in double-digits for most of the game. The Orange’s bench ended up outscoring Niagara’s 40-26, with the duo of Quadir Copeland (12 points, 4 rebounds and 7 assists) and Maliq Brown (15 points, 10 rebounds) leading the way.

While the Orange’s defense proved to be inconsistent late in the game, Syracuse did hold Niagara to 31% shooting in the first half which was all they needed to get out in front and hold on until the final buzzer.

On offense, it was a total team effort versus Niagara. Judah Mintz finished with a team-high 18 points on 7/15 shooting to go along with 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals while making timely plays in the second half to keep the Orange out in front.

Justin Taylor was the 4th player to finish in double-digits for the Orange (ending with 11 points on 4/8 shooting), but the trio of Chris Bell, J.J. Starling and Kyle Cuffe Jr. also all finished with 7 points each. Benny Williams finished with 6 points. Luke Bumbalough scored 26 points (6/12 from three) to lead all scorers for Niagara.

The Orange started off well on the defensive end and held Niagara to 1/7 shooting between tip-off and the first media timeout — which included a stretch of decent rim protection from Naheem McLeod and Taylor, as well as two transition stops by Bell. After Starling missed a three on the Orange’s first possession, Mintz scored Syracuse’s first points on a post-up. Starling and Bell each hit a jumper to put Syracuse up 6-2, and later in the half, a McLeod block led to a nice transition dunk for Mintz.

This and-one jumper by Mintz extended Syracuse’s lead briefly, but it was Luke Bumbalough who put a stop to Syracuse’s run briefly after he hit four consecutive jumpers (three of them threes) to push the Niagara out to a surprising 13-12 lead with under 12 minutes to go.

At this point, Syracuse started to go cold with the team shooting 38% from the field and held without a three-pointer. Adrian Autry shortly before the second media timeout switched to the Mintz plus all-bench unit (Cuffe Jr., Copeland, Williams, Brown). After that change, Williams drilled a three and Copeland finished with a crafty layup around the rim to put Syracuse back in the lead (17-13).

Both Syracuse and Niagara struggled early to create many efficient scoring opportunities, but after the Purple Eagles tied the game up, the Orange went on a quick 7-0 scoring spurt to take their largest lead so far (24-17). Copeland and Cuffe Jr., in particular, had a good stretch of converting some good shots with Mintz on the bench.

The energy boost off the bench extended Syracuse’s scoring run and gave the Orange a 12-point lead. After Bumbalough hit another three to cut it down to nine, Brown caught a pass along the perimeter and drilled a three-pointer of his own, giving Syracuse a 35-23 lead with three minutes left in the first half.

Syracuse entered halftime with a 38-28 lead, partly thanks to Bumbalough’s heroics on offense for Niagara. He scored 17 points in the half on 6/9 shooting (5/7 from three), while the rest of his team shot 4/23 combined. Mintz led the way for the Orange with 10 points, but it was 24 points off the bench (16 points from Copeland and Brown combined) that jumpstarted Syracuse’s offense just as things looked grim.

Mintz snuck through traffic to score a quick layup and put Syracuse back up 12, but after a few minutes, that was the Orange’s only basket to start the second half. By the first media timeout in the second half, Niagara cut Syracuse’s lead down to seven with possession of the ball. Fortunately, Mintz continued to produce with his drives to the rim and his passing, including two straight assists to Bell for a three-pointer and a layup in transition.

Niagara called timeout after the Orange jumped out to a 14-point lead (47-33) with around 16 minutes in the game left. After Bell made two in a row, it was Taylor’s turn to catch fire and he proceeded to score eight quick points to put Syracuse up 55-38.

Syracuse was able to pretty much hold a double-digit lead for the rest of the second half, as Niagara was able to score at times but unable to generate enough of a run to change things late. This jam by Williams off the pass from Copeland was one of several plays that kept Niagara just out of reach, even with the Purple Eagles cutting Syracuse’s lead down to as low as nine points at the very end.

Syracuse finish its non-conference slate this season with a 9-2 record, with the Orange winning their last four all by double-digits. Up next is a matchup with the Pittsburgh Panthers, at home on December 30th, to kick off a wild ACC slate.