This was what was expected out of Syracuse from the outset. They shot 50%, Rick Jackson and Kris Joseph led the way, they got contributions from rookies off the bench, and Fab Melo is slowly coming into form. Unfortunately, it took them seven games to get to this point and still couldn't string together two good halves of basketball. But the end result was the same with Syracuse improving to 7-0 after beating Cornell, 78-58.
Boeheim has repeatedly preached that this team is only going to go so far as the veterans take them. The veteran combo of Rick Jackson and Kris Joseph are doing their part. When the Orange need a bucket, they look to one of these two, either on the block with Jackson or out in space with Joseph. They are the best on the team at creating their own shot.
Jackson is in the best shape of his life having lost 20 pounds during the offseason and that has turned him into a much better rebounder. He's able to stay on the court longer because he's fitter and he's committing less silly fouls by playing defense with his feet. He recorded his sixth straight double-double, leading the Orange with 17 points (on 7-of-9 shooting) and 13 rebounds.
Is anyone questioning Kris Joseph anymore? Joseph struggled mightily in the first three games of the season but in the past three he's been on fire. He's hitting over 60% of his shots and over 50% from three-point range over the last three games. His biggest strength is his ability to get to the rim but teams keyed in on this and forced him to shoot from outside. Now though, he's making those shots and is nearly impossible to stop one-on-one.
For the rookies, it was Melo and Waiters lifting the Orange last night and a SportsCenter dunk from CJ Fair. Here's Melo's stat line from last night: 8 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks. That's the type of production most expected right away out of the McDonald's All-American. Instead, those numbers are about what he'd totaled through the first six games of the season. But at least he's progressing. He started the game by throwing down an alley-oop from Rick Jackson but his biggest improvement was on the defensive end. He swatted one shot of the backboard and had another one where he didn't bite on a pump fake, then waited for the offender to go up before blocking it. He still has trouble getting up and down the court but his defense should continue to improve while the competition gets stiffer.
It was Waiters giving them a spark off the bench yet again. He had 11 points but what was more impressive were his 4 assists. Of course, he did have 3 turnovers but it was good to see his willingness to give up the ball. He's billed as somewhat of a selfish scorer but that wasn't the case last night. He took the open shots but also hit the open man. He has been extremely efficient scoring 24 points on 12 shot attempts in the last two games.
And then there was CJ Fair. The stat line reads 1-for-3 for 2 points but those 2 points were the most memorable of the night. Rick Jackson made a ridiculous cross-court bounce pass to CJ Fair who dunked all over poor Andrew Ferry (unfortunately, this is the best clip of it on YouTube.) Rick Jackson called it the second best dunk he'd seen at Syracuse. Here was the best he'd ever seen.
This was the best game the Orange had played all season but you
wouldn't have gotten that impression if you'd listened to Boeheim after
the game. Here's just a sampling of his postgame comments: "We just
made ridiculous turnovers that you just can't have. We've got a lot of
work to do. We can't seem to get together for 40 minutes. ... We're a
long ways from where we need to be. ... It's disappointing that our
veteran guys can make so many bad turnovers. We've got to be better
than that. We've got a lot of work ahead of us. A LOT of work ahead of
us. ... In the second half there was nothing good about our defense."
On Scoop Jardine: "He was horrible. He couldn't be any worse than he played tonight. I could get 7 assists against them with a bad finger. He was completely nowhere in the game tonight. ... Horrible turnovers, horrible shot selection. Can't even describe it."
So tell us how you really feel? But clearly he has a point. The Orange relaxed in the second half and became careless. Up 38-17 at the break they took their foot off the gas and let Cornell climb back in the game. The biggest offenders were Scoop and Brandon Triche. Scoop was 0-for-5 and Triche went 4-for-9 but a few of those were off easy layups late in the game. They were 0-for-8 from three-point line and turned it over 10 times. They tried to force some really bad alley-oops and were out of sync all night. In fact, Jardine has been out of sync the past four games and Triche hasn't done much better. They've got to get better or they might see Waiters eating into their playing time and maybe taking over as a starter.
Despite Boeheim's doom and gloom analysis, this was their best game of the season. It's good timing too because they have to play an NC State team that's 4-1 (only loss to Georgetown) on Saturday and then the No. 6 team in the nation, Michigan State on Tuesday. As Boeheim said, they've got a lot of work ahead of them.Notes
-Mookie Jones played for the first time in three games and almost instantly put up a three. Don't ever change Mookie.
-James Southerland got a few minutes as well and looked completely lost on the offensive end. It looked like he had no clue where he was supposed to be and wound up nearly running into his own teammates.
-Against Northern Iowa, in the opener, I praised the Syracuse crowd. But now I have to condemn them. They're doing the shot clock trick all wrong. When the opponent has the ball, the fans are supposed to count down the shot clock early. So when there's 10 seconds left on the clock, you count down from 5 and try and get them to put something up early. Instead, the fans were doing the opposite and counting down with more time on the clock. In theory this makes sense but it never works in practice. I've never seen fans force a shot clock violation. I have seen fans cause a player to force up an errant shot.