No, this was not a replay of the Syracuse vs. Northern Iowa game. But the two were strikingly similar. Both games had limited offense in the first half with some bad ball movement. Both had the Orange's opponent giving up on the inside game and shooting way too many outside shots. Both saw Syracuse break out in the second half with more aggressive defense and easier baskets. And both saw McDonald's All-American Fab Melo foul out in limited minutes. The biggest difference was the contributors. Against Northern Iowa, the freshmen held it together until Kris Joseph got going in the second half. Last night it was their elders, Rick Jackson, Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche who propelled the Orange to the 86-67 victory.
I mentioned after the first game that this team is really deep. Well, Boeheim disputed that after last night. He said they have no proven depth and he has four players he can rely on. I'm starting to understand his point. Last night that depth had no cohesion in the first half. It looked like every player was just playing one-on-one. They were each looking for their own shot and not playing a team game. It's no wonder why they shot under 33% in the first half and held just a three-point lead, 32-29. And actually, Canisius should have led at the half. They were working the ball effectively inside and then suddenly abandoned that for three-pointers of which they hit 4 of 18 in the half and 9 of 35 in the game.
One of the only positives of the first half was the play of Scoop Jardine. He had laid a goose egg in the opener, missing all seven of his shots but last night he had 10 points, 4 assists and no turnovers in the first half alone. He drove to the hoop as opposed to settling for the jumper and that aggressiveness opened up the floor for everyone else. The defense collapsed and he distributed.
The second half saw the Orange jump out with some energy. They caused some turnovers and clamped down on the defensive end and that led to offense. They increased the tempo and Jackson and Triche played like they should've in the first half. Jackson hit 5 of his 6 shots after the break and finished with 17 points and a career-high 13 rebounds. Triche scored 13 of his 16 in the second, hitting on 5 of 8 shots.
There's a couple factors for why they have struggled in the first half and then turned it on in the second. It is partially because they've worn their opponent down. These early season opponents aren't going to have great depth. But it's also their energy level (or lack of it in the first half). These tale of two half games aren't going to fly when they get into the teeth of the Big East schedule (or some of the non-conference opponents like Michigan St.).
Clearly Syracuse has to improve and don't think Boeheim doesn't know it. "We need to get realistic. Right now, we're the most overrated team that I've ever had.," Boeheim said. "I'm a little shocked that everybody's bought into this whole thing. We've got a long ways to go. We are not a good basketball team.''Notes
-Fab Melo fouled out in 18 minutes in the opener; it took him just 13 minutes last night. But if he's going for some sort of record, he's got a ways to go. I think Jeremy McNeal once fouled out before even stepping onto the court.
-Boeheim is still trying to figure out how to manage minutes and there were some big disparities from the Northern Iowa game:
-Mookie Jones (8 minutes increased to 14) - Mookie is known for being a little sensitive and after the first game many Cuse fans were scared if it continued he'd start making noise again. But he got increased playing time last night and played decent.
-C.J. Fair (8 minutes increased to 18) - Fair is a great team player. He's not going out there looking to score and instead crashes the glass and gets his shots around the rim. Last night he had 11 points on just 5 shots. If some of the other players can't figure out how to play unselfishly, Fair's minutes could increase.
-Dion Waiters (18 minutes decreased to 13) - Some might think Waiters is in the doghouse. He was one of the last subs off the bench and he made just 1 of 5 shots last night. But let's not overreact. Yes, Boeheim wasn't happy with his performance calling him a non-factor, but Triche and Jardine played so well that it's no wonder he didn't get more playing time.
-James Southerland (15 minutes decreased to 9) - Maybe I jinxed him. I wanted to see more of Southerland after the opener and despite the lack of minutes, I saw too much of him. He hit 1 of 9 shots, scoring just 2 points.
-Baye Moussa Keita (still copying and pasting that one) - He has been the biggest surprise for the Orange. Last night he played just 17 minutes (18 in the opener) but grabbed 15 rebounds including 9 offensive. That's an unbelievable stat line for someone I thought would barely contribute this year. He's probably going to start eating into Fab Melo's minutes. With Moussa Keita, the Orange can get up and down the court much quicker.