Before we get started, you should probably go ahead and start playing the music above. It’s the best way to set the mood when we start talking about the way Syracuse closed out tonight’s win over Boston College. Go ahead and keep it playing while you read this, because it’ll help you get over how pitifully the Orange played down the stretch in a game it should have won by 20.
It was pretty clear early on that Boston College was not a good team. Yes, they played Virginia pretty tough this year, so maybe we should chalk this up as a decent win, but the fact of the matter is that Boston College is, with an 0-5 record, the very worst team in the ACC. Syracuse improves to 14-5 overall and 5-1 in conference play, but I doubt many of us are particularly thrilled with the way this 69-61 victory came.
Yes, a win is a win. I understand that, and for most of the game the Orange looked positively dominant. The Eagles were thoroughly outclassed for about 35 minutes tonight (excluding the first three and the last two). After getting inexplicably hot from three to grab a 12-4 lead early, the Eagles came crashing back down to Earth and Syracuse out-scored them 31-5 the rest of the way to head into halftime leading 35-17. The result was never in much question after that, but that wasn’t because Syracuse wasn’t trying. Honestly, if a team was trying to give a game away they couldn’t do much better than the Orange did in those final couple of minutes.
Obviously, it didn’t help Syracuse’s cause that Rakeem Christmas was battling foul trouble all night. I should step back and mention that, fortunately, the rest of the Orange starters stepped up adequately to pick up the slack created when Rak was stuck on the bench. Christmas fouled out after logging just 23 minutes, but he very efficiently scored 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting and grabbed seven boards. If Christmas hadn’t been facing so much foul trouble throughout the game, the outcome might have been a little more lopsided. It was pretty apparent that Boston College simply had no one who could come close to handling Christmas defensively, and the only thing stopping him from a 30 point game was the fact that he was quickly whistled for three first half fouls and, after getting an early foul in the second half, fouled out after a long stint on the bench.
Michael Gbinije stepped up when he was needed tonight, and that’s a good thing. He was pretty quiet down the stretch, but he became a go-to scorer with Christmas on the bench. Gbinije scored in a variety of ways tonight, finishing strong around the rim and knocking down a couple perimeter jumpers on his way to 17 points, eight rebounds, and four assists. If I had to pick a game MVP for the Orange, it would probably be Gbinije despite a bit of a disappearing act down the stretch, as Boston College started harassing the Orange into turnovers and began to make things interesting.
Another important note is that, for the second game in a row, Kaleb Joseph showed some flashes of being a very effective offensive player. He looked solid with his pull-up jumpers, and was confident attacking the basket on his way to 13 points to go along with seven assists against just one turnover. Still, Joseph had some serious defensive lapses, which found him a place on the bench for a long stretch in the first half, and in the second half he committed a boneheaded foul on a three point shooter when the Eagles were desperately trying to chip away at the Syracuse lead in the game’s final minutes.
All five Syracuse starters reached double figures in the scoring column, and that’s a very good thing considering the team got a whopping two points off the bench. Syracuse has a thin bench, this is not a surprising statement, but the absolute lack of production ever since Chris McCullough went down with an ACL injury has been startling. Fortunately for the Orange, Boston College was even more dismal from that perspective. Syracuse scored just two bench points, but that was still good enough to win that particular battle, as the Eagles got zero offensive production from its bench players.
Ballhandling continues to be an issue for the Orange, and that was evident when the Orange started to give the ball away at the end of the game. Syracuse only had eight turnovers in the game, but looked remarkably sloppy against Boston College’s full court press as the Eagles tried to fight their way back into the game.
Syracuse came away with the win, and the Orange still have just one loss in conference play. Still, the schedule is not going to get any easier, and no matter how good Syracuse looked for a long stretch tonight, it’s hard to ignore how poorly they both started and ended tonight’s game. Free throw shooting was an issue, with Kaleb Joseph’s two late free throws proving to be a bit of an anomaly as the Orange couldn’t seem to make both attempts on any of their late trips to the line. You’re not going to put many games away when you can’t go better than 1-of-2 from the line down the stretch.
Still, there were some positive signs that are going to be overshadowed by the ugly finish. Gbinije had a strong all around game, and Joseph continued to build up his confidence on the offensive end. I haven’t even talked about Trevor Cooney, who finished with 15 points, or Tyler Roberson, who stuffed the stat sheet pretty nicely with 10 points, seven rebounds, three assists, and three blocks.
But this game, as with any good book or any good movie, is going to be remembered more for the ending rather than how we arrived there. Against a Boston College team that could be best described as “subpar” tonight, the Orange struggled to close things out, and that’s troubling given the difficult upcoming stretch. We’ll take the win, but we’re not going to be completely thrilled with it.