This is getting ridiculous. Syracuse plays what seems like their 86th consecutive nailbiter and somehow they come out on top. Yet again. What else is new.
Remember about halfway through the season when we were all wondering how SU would respond in a close game, because they had been basically blowing everyone out of the water? I miss those days now. It was a kinder, simpler time, when men were men and uniforms were not gray… when Rick Perry was still in the presidential race… when Brandon Triche and James Southerland were regularly hitting three-pointers.
I have made a conscious decision not to complain about road wins in conference, no matter how ugly they may be. They are precious commodities and meant to be savored (just ask Notre Dame). But if ever there were a road win that deserved to be bitched out a little, it’s this one. SU went through a bewildering stretch of basketball in the 2nd half that let UConn get back in. The charitable angle would be that the Huskies turned up their intensity in their loud, tiny home gym and SU just had trouble matching it. But to my eyes it looked more like SU let their guard down and started making bad decisions, not valuing each possession the way they had in the first half. But that’s all I will say in the negative column because:
- SU has now won the Big East regular season crown outright.
- SU has set a record for the most regular season wins in their history.
SU has tied the record for the most BIG EAST wins in a season.(Update: this is false. The record is 17 wins by 1995-6 UConn. Oops.)
- Gampel Pavilion is now Cuse Country, for the first time ever.
And that’s all deserving of celebration.
I will make one more complaint, though — the officiating was once again substandard. Mike Waters took a close look at refs’ travel and game schedules on Friday and if you haven’t read it, you ought to. Long stretches of this game were played at a furious pace (a refreshing change from the slogs through which SU has recently had to wade) and the referees did not seem up to the task. There were several missed goaltending calls, both offensive and defensive, on both teams. There were a couple of inexplicable traveling violations called, including one where Kris Joseph was firmly bumped by a defender as he started to pass the ball. There was contact galore that went un-whistled. Everyone seems to agree that CJ Fair fouled Roscoe “P. Coltrane” Smith on the final play, but nobody is mentioning all the contact that Dion and Scoop had to endure on their drives into the lane. Scoop shot two free throws all night. Two. And he was getting in the lane over and over. He’s good, but he’s not that elusive.
Thumbs up last night to lots of the fellas in Orange. Kris Joseph’s shooting stroke was suddenly back, in a game where it was seriously needed. Plus he had seven rebounds. Fab Melo, despite being burned a couple of times on lobs, was a serious defensive presence and made several key baskets in the stretch run, not just the game winner. Plus he had nine rebounds. Dion Waiters had perhaps the best dunk of his career — it’s one thing to throw down the hammer when you are all alone on a run-out, but it’s quite another to tomahawk one down through two defenders — and several other impressive drives, as well as a key blocked shot late. Plus he had four rebounds. Scoop had 6 assists and some important shots to take a little steam out of UConn 2nd half runs. Plus he had five rebounds. CJ Fair hit a couple early jumpers that helped open up the paint for the guards, and then despite hardly scoring for the rest of the game, he had SU’s final offensive play called for him and made a nice move to get inside against Drummond. Even though he didn’t hit, he drew the defense enough that Fab was able to slam home the rebound. Also, Fair had seven rebounds.
Do you get that I’m excited about the rebounds? Heck, even Rakeem Christmas had a couple boards of his own. (And one ill-fated attempt at a post-up move.)
Also, SU got key contributions from Southerland and M-C-Will. Southerland played good defense (including a sick rejection of a dunk attempt) and hit his first three pointer since the Nixon administration. MCW banked in a three, had two assists, a rebound, a steal, and played great at the top of the zone. He had just seven minutes of action, but during those seven minutes, SU went from holding a tenuous 12-10 lead to a dominant 32-16 advantage. That’s a serious “plus-minus” rating for the kid, similar to what happened in the St. John’s game.
Really the only sub-par game came from Keita, who inexplicably missed a wide open shot from 2 feet away and got pushed around down low by UConn’s bigger, stronger frontcourt. Triche did not light it up but he played decently when he was in. It’s just that his minutes are shrinking. His lack of “killer instinct” finally seems to have set him back. The offense that SU is running these days relies so much on guard penetration, and Scoop and Dion have both established themselves as better drivers and finishers near the rim. Brandon did have a couple of really good drives in this game, and I still believe (as Boeheim does, and has said) that he has the potential to be dominant, but he’s not showing it consistently enough to be on the floor down the stretch of these close games. Again, I should qualify that statement. He’s plenty good. It’s just that there are two guys on the team who are even better, so Brandon’s minutes and numbers have suffered. But I wouldn’t call this a “sub-par” game for Brandon. Maybe just a par.
Now we have a week to sit back and enjoy watching the rest of college basketball beat up on each other, before SU takes the court with a chance to put a gold-plated cherry on top of what is already a platinum ice cream sundae of a season. (And I have a week to improve my metaphors.) Get ready for a flood of Scoop and Kris senior day coverage, and make sure to pick up your Big East Champs t-shirt to go with your 880 wins shirt, your 20-0 shirt, and this not-at-all-jinxy “March Madness - Road To New Orleans” shirt.