A lot of Syracuse University basketball fans were no doubt pretty baffled when they watched the first half of tonight’s game against St. Bonaventure. There were the Orange, who looked so good in the preseason exhibition games, struggling once again against an inferior opponent. Fortunately, the Orange exerted their will down the stretch in the second half to earn a 79-66 win.
The Bonnies were throwing in what seemed like every three pointer they attempted, and even on misses, the Orange were struggling to control the glass. At one point early on, St. Bonaventure held a 17-4 edge on the glass. That’s not a typo, folks. That’s just poor rebounding.
Of course, it didn’t help that Tyler Roberson – easily Syracuse’s top rebounder – picked up two fouls early. Roberson wound up fouling out, but not before grabbing 12 boards to lead the Orange. But when he was on the bench in the first half, it was ugly, to say the least. For awhile, it almost seemed like Tyler Lydon was the only player who realized he was allowed to go after caroms, but fortunately, eventually, Syracuse’s talent level and superior simply won out.
And it really was the length and the athleticism of Syracuse that proved to be the difference, as the Orange hounded the Bonnies into 17 turnovers, and Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije combined for 10 steals (including a rather ridiculous six for Cooney) to really turn the tide. St. Bonaventure cooled down from long distance, the Orange started to get hot, and some timely buckets from the likes of Gbinije, Malachi Richardson, and Lydon really proved to be the spark that Syracuse needed to overcome what, on multiple occasions, was a double digit lead for SBU.
Heading into the season, it seemed pretty evident that Syracuse had some very serious flaws to overcome: rebounding, any sort of inside presence, and being able to create anything other than three point attempts. Maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a game in which Syracuse struggled in all three of those facets resulted in the Orange finding themselves in a hole.
There were certainly some things to like in the game, like the play of Richardson and Lydon. Richardson still needs to work on being a little more aware on the wing of the 2-3 zone, but he’s got such a smooth, easy stroke and knack for scoring that you have to be willing to live with a few lapses here and there. Lydon, on the other hand, has more energy than anyone else on the team, and if he were only 15 pounds heavier he’d likely be challenging for the title of the team’s most effective player on both ends of the court. Richardson finished with 15 points and Lydon finished with 13 and six boards.
Kind of amazingly, the leading scorers were Gbinije and Cooney. Not that it’s amazing that the two senior guards lead the team in scoring, but it was done pretty quietly, and the duo had enough struggles early on that it was easy to overlook their overall effectiveness. Gbinije finished with 23, and shot the ball pretty well overall (8-of-14 overall, 3-of-7 from distance) while adding five assists. Cooney struggled to find his range, hitting just 2-of-8 triples and 4-of-12 shots overall, but got the job done at the free throw line (8-of-11) en route to scoring 18.
Rebounding continues to be a major concern, overall. The Orange were pretty thoroughly dominated on the glass, with the Bonnies owning a 43-32 edge, and that’s including Roberson hauling in 12 rebounds and Lydon grabbing six. After those two, no one had more than three rebounds, and that’s a serious problem down the road. Outside of Lydon, the Orange didn’t have a single rebound from anyone outside of the starting lineup.
Not that the bench really got much run in this game, of course. Jim Boeheim, as stubborn as ever on his 71st birthday, barely played anyone outside of Gbinije, Cooney, Roberson, Richardson, and Lydon in the second half. For a team with only nine scholarship players, it’s a little troubling to go to such a short rotation this early in the season, against a lesser team like St. Bonaventure.
Still, the Orange are 2-0, and some struggles were expected this season. So far, those struggles have come in exactly the areas we expected. Some can be improved on through practice, but unfortunately size isn’t exactly something that can be taught. It’ll be an interesting season, and as tonight showed, how effectively Syracuse plays will depend largely on how good a job the team does in turning the opponent over and creating scoring extra scoring opportunities. A win is a win is a win, for now, and we’ll take all that we can get.