Syracuse did all they could to beat West Virginia in the first 19:30 and then tried their best to give the game back in the final 30 seconds. But despite their best efforts they came up victorious, 72-71.
Syracuse shot 61 percent in the first half compared to just 32 percent for West Virginia yet they only led the Mountaineers by one at the break, 26-25. It was a combination of the Orange's turnovers and the Mountaineers' offensive rebounds that kept them in the game. Syracuse turned the ball over 13 times in the first half and West Virginia secured 10 offensive rebounds. I know the zone lends itself to offensive rebounds but they have to do a better job finding a body to box out once a shot goes up.
On offense they had Rick Jackson come up to the three-point line and were running their offense through him. I don't know why you stick a big forward like Jackson around the three-point line. West Virginia had no reason to guard him out there and he's not a particularly good passer. So, if he sets a screen, his defender can cheat off until the other defender is able to recover. It caused the offense to stall and was partially to blame for some early turnovers. But Boeheim made the adjustment and for the final 13 minutes of the half never had both Jackson and Arinze Onuaku on the court at the same time and brought in the much quicker Kris Joseph. This opened up the lane a bit more and allowed for more cuts to the basket.
In the second half West Virginia started to penetrate the zone and got some good lucks. They jumped out to a 38-32 lead with 15 minutes left. But Syracuse cut down on their turnovers and had a 9-0 run and a 13-4 run to give them a 10-point lead late in the game.
There was one possession in particular that was near back-breaking for the Mountaineers. They had just hit a bucket to cut the lead to 57-51. Brandon Triche looked to make a move and elbowed his defender in the face. No foul was called and he backed it out and then looked to penetrate. He blew past his man and drew contact at the rim and hit the lay-up. Instead of a three-point play though, Syracuse got the offensive rebound, Rautins missed a three but Triche was there to tip it back in and complete a four-point possession. Triche finished with a game-high 16 points on just eight field goal attempts.
Syracuse led 65-55 with just 1:20 remaining and the game was all but over. It seemed like it was just a matter of the final score. But Syracuse kept it interesting. In the final 90 seconds Syracuse missed six free throws, turned it over once, and Jardine committed a foul on a three-point attempt. West Virginia actually had a shot at the win after Joseph missed his second free throw but with just a couple ticks left on the clock they could only muster a desperation three-quarter court heave that fell well short.
But it's tough to really complain about this win. It's a road win against a top 10 team in the Big East in a game where Wesley Johnson was ineffective (possibly due to the flu). Doesn't matter how they got it - all that matters is they got it.
Syracuse now has to travel to South Bend to face Notre Dame on Monday.Game Notes: If you've read my posts you know I rarely complain about officials. Even in this game overall it was pretty fair - and I even mentioned that Triche got away with an offensive foul earlier in this post. But Syracuse was called for FIVE offensive fouls on charges and maybe one of them was legit. On the other side of the ball, Rautins was called for a blocking foul that was clearly a charge. The foul was his fourth with 6:43 remaining and it could've easily cost them the game.