The trend Syracuse hasn't been able to shake is not putting together a complete game. It seems in every game they have one good half and one awful half. Well, they broke that trend last night but not in a good way. Instead of one good half, they played half of one good half. But their defense played just good enough in the final few minutes to pull out another victory against a mediocre opponent. Syracuse improves to 8-0 by beating North Carolina State, 65-59.
The Orange began the game on fire. It seemed like they were finally going to play up to expectations and take care of business. Syracuse didn't have their first turnover until over halfway through the first half and had their biggest lead of the night at 31-18. If it hadn't been for some hot shooting from three-point range from NC State it would've been a much bigger lead. 12 of those 18 were from distance and NC State connected on six of their first nine three-pointers. But Syracuse's offense looked unstoppable. They hit 13 of their first 22 shots.
And then? And then it was like the William & Mary game all over again. In that game they shot 5 of 22 from three-point range and 1 of 16 of their shots inside the arc that weren't layups. After the hot start tonight (13 of 22) Syracuse hit 10 of 38 shots (26%). In the second half alone they missed all but one non-layup (1 of 17), including 0-of-8 from distance.
The biggest culprit of that poor shooting was Kris Joseph. Joseph had been averaging nearly 19 points on 56% shooting in his last four games. Last night he made 3 of 12 shots scoring just 8 points. For Syracuse to be successful he needs to be less streaky and more consistent.
If you just looked at Scoop Jardine's state line of 23 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals you'd think he was the only one that played well. But it took him 21 shots to score those 23 points. Boeheim said, "He's taking those shots because he's seeing we're not scoring. ... He's got to find people. He's probably got to take 6 to 7 less shots and get the ball to people better. He's more of a scorer than a point guard right now." I'll state the obvious - Scoop is not Kobe Bryant. He's a point guard. He shouldn't feel like he needs to bail this team out. He needs to make the pass and rely on his teammates to his shots.
But Jardine salvaged his stat line by making the adjustment to drive to the rim. In fact, the entire team looked to drive instead of settling for jumpers because that was the only way they could score. They scored 27 points in the second half, 14 on layups, 11 on free throws and 2 from a midrange jumper.
The Orange were able to hang on despite a huge offensive drought because of their stout defense. After Rick Jackson made their only jumper in the second half at 6:45, Syracuse didn't make another field goal. But neither did the Wolfpack. The Orange forced a few turnovers with a full-court zone and suffocating half court defense. After that 6-of-9 start from three-point range, NC State made just 2-of-14. Syracuse outscored them at the line 6-1 to close the game out.
Add NC State to the list of mediocre teams Syracuse has beaten. I wrote about how Syracuse was overrated and how each of their opponents could be discounted for various reasons. NC State is no exception. They were without their leading scorer from last year, Tracy Smith, and they got absolutely murdered this past Wednesday by Wisconsin by nearly 40 points.
Chalk up another 'W' but don't get too excited about this 8-0 start. Now comes the real test against Michigan State. Take a look at those AP standings come Monday because there's a very good chance that's as high as this team will be ranked for the rest of the season. If they play as bad as they have in every game so far, Syracuse will definitely lose by double-digits. But maybe they will rise to the challenge and it will be a turning point for their season. I wouldn't bet on that.
-After the game Rick Jackson said he believed these close games will help them out, "A lot of the guys on the top 10 teams right now are having a lot of blowout games and not having a lot of tough games and I think we're one of the teams that are really having, I don't want to say tough games, but people are coming in here and making us play." This is laughable. 'Look out top 10! You guys have been blowing teams out and we're playing tight ones against awful competition. That's going to prepare us to beat all of you.' Brilliant!
-Fab Melo got a rebound and put back on the first possession and gout fouled and then minutes later converted on an alley-oop. But his scoring ended there. He couldn't hustle back on defense and that limited him to just 14 minutes and very little of those 14 came in the second half. The big man has to work on his fitness so he can get up and down the court.
-Rick Jackson is turning into quite the passer. He had that cross-court bounce pass that led to the ridiculous CJ Fair dunk against Cornell and in this one he had a cross-court, one-handed baseball pass that led to a 2-on-1 with Joseph dunking off an alley-oop from Brandon Triche. On a sidenote -Syracuse has to stop falling in love with the alley-oop. They've probably connected on about a third of them this season.