40 minutes of James

Before moving on to tonight’s epic clash with the Eastern Michigan Fighting DaShonte’s, it’s worth looking back at Friday’s True Road Game, where the Orange came away with another Road Win:

(And yes, I say “another” because I am counting the aircraft carrier game as a road game. Anytime you travel 2700 miles to the game and your opponent travels 12 miles, it’s a road game.)

Coming into the game, the big question was how SU would handle Arkansas’ famed “40 minutes of hell” style of play. Would the unrelenting pressure cause bunches of turnovers that would lead to easy hoops for the Razorbacks? Would the crowd feed off of these plays and get loud and crazy the way underdog home teams can? Would SU’s untested players succumb to this environment, feeding the very pressure and intensity that was causing the problems in the first place?

The answer to all of these questions was “Yes, but only occasionally.”

SU’s composure was only briefly rattled here and there. Arkansas had two quick hoops off of SU misses in the first couple of minutes, and the crowd was raucous. But by the first TV timeout SU had taken the lead, and by the second they were up 9 and the crowd had been tamed. Other than a couple brief spurts by the Hogs, SU maintained control of the game thereafter. They never relinquished the lead and although they had a couple of cold spells that allowed their opponents to get somewhat close, you never got the feeling that they were in serious danger. This is primarily because they have James Southerland on their team, and he was ridiculous on Friday. You know this. But I’m saying it anyway. For instance:

  • Southerland nearly had one point for each minute of hell promised by Arkansas.
  • He made as many three-pointers in this game than he had in the first four games combined.
  • He made more threes in this game than the rest of the team had made, combined, in the first four games.
  • He scored more points than Carmelo Anthony ever did in a single Syracuse game.

Put simply, the man was unstoppable. He almost single-handedly built up SU’s big first-half lead, and then when Arkansas crept back into it during the 2nd half, he drained a couple more just to remind them whose house it was on this night.

As for the rest of the team, the performance of Michael “The Beast” Carter-Williams was undeniable. The six turnovers were a bit more than one would like, but everything else was solid. He had a few amazing drives to the rim, little half-floater half-layups that are basically unguardable, unless you too are 6′6″ with a 7′ wingspan and quicker than a rabbit. Brandon Triche had an unusually tough night, with lots of shots, from both near and far, just rimming out. He couldn’t seem to get anything to stay down, until about 11 minutes remaining in the game when he went on his own personal 10-2 run to push a wobbly 5-point lead back up to 13. He never got flustered like we’ve seen in the past, he didn’t disappear and become a non-factor. He kept driving and shooting, like he is supposed to, and it eventually paid off.

And let me not overlook the play of Baye Moussa Keita. He played his usual excellent interior defense, grabbed six rebounds, and hit a jump shot(!!) early in the second half when SU was only up by 5. This is a team that basically has three centers, which is a heck of a luxury for Boeheim to have. As long as the rest of the guys are scoring, I expect to see a lot of Baye who is the best defender of the three. DaJuan Coleman had a few good minutes in this game, but needs to get quicker on his post moves (see: every SU big man as a freshman). Rakeem Christmas was kind of a non-factor, but with Southerland and Keita playing as well as they did, there just weren’t enough minutes to go around.

Did I miss anyone? Oh yeah, CJ Fair. All he did was score 12 points with 4 rebounds and play lock-down defense on the wing. Ho hum. And then there’s Trevor Cooney. He’s going to get his share of minutes this year, as the only other guard on the roster Boeheim doesn’t have much choice. The good news is, he’s showing himself to be a fine defender. Having had a full year of practice, he understands how the zone works and his role therein. The bad news is that his offense is MIA. He is supposed to be a pure shooter but right now he can’t hit a thing. He’s even bricking foul shots. I think it’s got to be mental, and I’m hoping that the next few games against lesser foes will give him a chance to break out of whatever funk he’s in. There will be games this year where he will be needed for more than just soaking up 10 minutes of floor time to give the other guards a rest. Let’s give him some time to get his head straight now, while there is time to spare.

Finally, I present this homage to Arkansas’ supposedly brutal style of play — the defense that allowed SU to shoot nearly 50% from the floor, the tenacious rebounding that got outboarded by 8. 40 Minutes of hell? More like….

(OK, so I had this ready to go Friday on the Twitter but forgot to post it pre-game. I won’t get another chance to use it.)

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