…Chemistry. That was the story of the Colgate game. Most SU fans outside of central NY probably weren’t able to see the game, but for us out-of-towners lucky enough to be blessed with a holy grail game-viewing hook up, we got to witness a scary lack of the aforementioned science. The first half was one of the most depressing spectacles of basketball I’ve ever witnessed. It’s not so much that the team played badly, it’s that they displayed a disconcerting lack of desire to be on the court. It was like they didn’t want to be in the Dome at all. My game-time text message conversations with Cuse Country contributor Tom centered around wondering if the entire team had suddenly stopped enjoying the game of basketball. Their were no smiles, no Terrence Roberts woofing, no celebrations after made baskets; and when Eric Devendorf finally got in the game and was equally comatose, even the announcers wondered if there was something wrong. Normally the biggest trash talker on the team–and the one who we count on to fire up the crowd–Devo slept through all his first half minutes. The weirder part was that he played pretty well, scored several times, had some highlight assists, grabbed some boards, and had a great three point play. But at no point did he crack a smile during any of it or open his mouth at all. They were like robots out there, it was thoroughly bizzarre. There was also a disturbing lack of teammates’ congratulating each other after good plays, to the point that Tom and I theorized some sort of Preston Shumpert/DeShaun Williams girlfriend rift might be causing problems internally. The guys seriously looked like they didn’t want to be on the court together.
Then the 2nd half happened and the magical healing powers of a spectacular performance kicked in. There was chemistry aplenty in the second stanza, but that tends to happen when the offense kicks into high gear and one player is putting on a great show. It was fun to watch, make no mistake, but it’s not something we can count on. As long as Nichols nails 6 straight threes, from farther and farther away, generally while covered, then it’s pretty easy for the guys to get excited and hug each other and hand out the high fives. For ten minutes, the guards were looking to feed him, and the team acted with clear purpose at the offensive end. But until D-Nic went nuts, there was no sign of life and no flow anywhere on the court. After he went nuts, things opened up for everyone else, and everything got a lot easier. Well, no duh. That’s no answer to the long term problems though, as this kind of performance is going to be rare.
Or maybe not. The optimist in me would like to believe that maybe Nichols is ready to make The Leap and become a full time star. That would answer a lot of questions for this team. If he decides that he’s going to become a 20 ppg guy, period, and that he’s ready to shine, then a lot of offensive problems will get solved. It would take a lot of willpower on his part, and probably a personality transplant, but he’s got the talent to do it. He put up 26 on a real good OK St team (though he was awful against Wichita), so we know he’s gotten to the point where he can score on good defensive teams, even with no help. But he’ll need to take it upon himself to shoot the ball 15-20 times a game and demand it every time down the court. That’s not been his style to this point.
Can anyone remember a time when an SU player blossomed into a dominant star as a senior? Nothing akin to Nichols’ situation comes to mind, which worries me. Wallace obviously made The Leap in his final year, but he was already extremely good as a Junior. Z Sims and Allen Griffin only became great as Seniors, but they were in no way ‘dominant’. What we need out of Nichols is for him to become the next Lawrence Moten, and cram it all into one year. If that happens then the half court opens up for Harris to wreak havoc inside, Devo can be the dangerous 2nd option we know he can be, Terrence can stop shooting entirely, and all the scenarios we’re hoping for can happen. Anybody want to bet on it?
One positive from the game other than the Nichols glimmer of hope: Devendorf responded pretty well to being demoted all the way down to 8th off the bench (!!!), looked fairly healthy, and managed to get big minutes despite Boeheim clearly wanting to stick a knife in his heart every time their eyes met. Devo had a couple bad plays, including at least one dumb turnover, but apparently Jimmy’s been reading this space, because he left him in the game anyway and let him work his way back into the flow of the offense. The forced action seemed to have an effect, and he was a good contributor for most of his time in there. In the 2nd half, he even regained some swagger and energy.
Then again, with Nichols going off, it was all pretty easy for him. We’ll see how things go the next time the team is struggling to score.