Last night, the Syracuse Orange survived their first true road test of the season, edging Seton Hall 61-56. Although at a glance, this looks like an atrocious performance, I’m not going to bash them too hard for barely beating a team expected to be one of the Big East bottom feeders. Syracuse just had one of those games-one where the ball just refused to find the bottom of the night. Syracuse came into the game averaging over 75 points per game, and singeing the nets to the tune of nearly 50% per game. Against the Pirates, the Orange put up the aforementioned 61 points while shooting only 44% for the game (which included 35% shooting on their threes and a vomit-inducing 47% on their free throws).
The way I see it, teams are going to have games like this. In the end, they had just enough juice to survive, with Scoop Jardine again making clutch plays late in the game, and an unlikely hero, offensively forgotten Brandon Triche. Triche had easily his biggest game of the season, pouring in 15 points, all in the second half, including four huge three pointers. Triche’s outburst came at a time when the Orange offense had become stagnant, with Kris Joseph having a poor shooting night and getting zero contributions from their bench. Triche, who has been an afterthought on offense for much of the recent schedule, regained his stroke just in time to stake Syracuse out to a lead it ultimately would never relinquish.
A couple flaws were exposed in this game, however; flaws that make me exceedingly nervous heading into the Big East schedule, and on a farther note, the NCAA tournament. The biggest flaw, of course, was Syracuse’s inside presence, save Rick Jackson, who had his usual strong game, complete with nine points, 14 boards, four assists, a couple of blocks, and a steal. However, Syracuse got absolutely nothing (again) from Fab Melo, who continues to look like he just picked up a basketball for the first time last week, and Baya-Moussa Keita, who has played fairly well as of late. There is absolutely no way Syracuse will defeat a team like Pittsburgh with just Jackson controlling the paint, let alone dream of the Final Four.
I’m not sure what needs to be done with Fab Melo. He had so much hype coming into the season, but looks completely inept on the offensive end, and lost on the defensive side. As good as Rick Jackson has been, he can’t carry this team by himself. Syracuse got out-rebounded by 13 boards yesterday, with Herb Pope and Jeff Robinson astonishingly combining to pull down more rebounds than the entire Syracuse team. Games where the shots aren’t falling for the Orange make them especially vulnerable, as a lack of polished big men limit the second-chance opportunites and force them to rely on their defense, which, thankfully, has been outstanding all season.
With the schedule starting to heat up over the next couple weeks, I’m excited to see how this team will perform. For all their early faults, they’re still 16-0, and when it comes down to it, this team has shown so far that they can overcome any multitude of problems throughout a game and still emerge with the most important statistic of a game: the big W.
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Written by Curt Bell