Now that was more like it. Remember that team we saw in the Bahamas that looked like it might really surprise some teams this year? Well, we hadn’t seen it in awhile but it came back with a vengeance today, as the Syracuse University basketball team pummeled Wake Forest 83-55 in Winston-Salem.
You could tell it might be a very good day early on when Trevor Cooney was absolutely pure on his first two three pointers, barely moving the net on either attempt. Then he added a third, and then an off balance, one handed leaner that once again swished perfectly through the hoop, scoring the first 11 points of the game for Syracuse. The first few minutes of today’s game was perhaps the most pure his stroke has been in his time at Syracuse, and you have to wonder what he could have done had Wake not finally started keying on him and limiting his touches over the last 10 minutes of the opening half.
Fortunately, while no one outside of Tyler Lydon was hitting from the perimeter, the rest of the Orange were getting things going closer to the hoop. There were plenty of missed bunnies by Syracuse, but Michael Gbinije put on a one man dunk contest as the game wore on, Tyler Roberson was an animal on the offensive glass, and even Dajuan Coleman had some nice looking post moves before foul trouble took him out of the game.
Cooney scored 19 of his points in the first 10 minutes of the opening half, and 21 of his 25 before halftime. Gbinije once again struggled to get his jumper going but got plenty of easy buckets on his way to 15 points and eight rebounds – and make no mistake, his rebounding was important with Coleman, Roberson, and Lydon all in serious foul trouble – and Roberson finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive glass.
Lydon, meanwhile, finally looked aggressive on offense and it paid off for the Orange. The 6-foot-9 freshman hit 3-of-4 attempts from beyond the arc and while he hit just 1-of-7 two pointers, he was looking for his shot and showed some nice court vision, driving and dishing for an assist early and later in the game making a terrific entry past from the top of the key for an easy look that led to a foul on the Deacs.
Now, it’s hard to criticize much after an absolute blowout victory but there were still a few things that jumped out while watching the game, and I’m not just talking about how horrendously officiated things were, or the fact that the ACC Network announcers seemed to forget that Wake wasn’t the only team on the floor (perfectly epitomized when they showed a highlight package of Cooney’s first half, only for the announcers to drone on down a list of former Wake Forest players, basically ignoring what the viewers at home were seeing).
For one, Gbinije’s struggles at the point guard position continued today, with four turnovers against just two assists. He still has a tough time leading a half court offense, and as I’ve been saying from the start, he needs to be a scorer and not a facilitator. Of course, that would be easier if Syracuse had a point guard Jim Boeheim trusts, which doesn’t seem to be the case at this point.
Frank Howard showed a few flashes in his 18 minutes of action but is obviously still raw when it comes to point guard duties, and Kaleb Joseph is so firmly planted at the end of the bench that he couldn’t even get into a 30-point blowout until there were only four minutes remaining, spending most of his time on the court with the walk-ons. If Joseph is back in Orange next season, frankly I’ll be very surprised.
I’m going to keep this one short and sweet, but wanted to end on an upbeat note. Since getting absolutely embarrassed on the boards, Syracuse has quietly won the war on the glass in four of the last five games, including somehow topping UNC with all of that squads big, athletic post players. The lone game in which Syracuse came out on the wrong side of the rebounding battle was against Clemson, and even then the Tigers had just one more rebound than the Orange. For a team with so little depth in the post, that’s a pretty remarkable turnaround and one of the keys to the team’s steadily improving play.
Syracuse will need to continue that trend and, hopefully, get the “good” Gbinije back and keep the “good” Cooney rolling against Duke on Monday night in Durham. Last year, Gbinije had some serious ups and downs against his former team, scoring 27 on 10-of-14 shooting at home, but going just 5-of-20 for 12 points at Cameron Indoor. His play will go a long way toward determining whether Syracuse has a chance to pull off the upset, so let’s hope his performance is more like the former and absolutely nothing like the latter.
Duke has lost two in a row, falling to Clemson and Notre Dame. The Blue Devils haven’t lost three games in a row since the 2006-2007 season, so I think we can imagine how fired up Coach K will have his team. Let’s see how Jim Boeheim and his squad are able to counter.