By Michael McAllister
Syracuse got an unexpected challenge from the Providence Friars Wednesday night. On paper, Syracuse was deeper, significantly more talented, and should have run away from the Friars. However, as the old saying goes, that's why they play the game.
Syracuse struggled in the first half, and clung to a 36-34 lead at the break. The Orange were turning it over, being out-rebounded, and being out hustled. For the first time all season, the zone was bad. It was not active, not aggressive, missed assignments, was out of position, and did not rotate. There was a lot of standing around. Combine that with a good shooting performance from Providence, and it was a game at halftime.
At the beginning of the second half, however, the Orange went on a critical 15-3 run to gain some separation from the Friars. Providence never got it back under six the rest of the way. The run was fueled by Brandon Triche, who made three straight three pointers to give the Orange a 55-41 lead with 14:54 remaining. The Friars cut the lead to six or seven a couple of times after that, but the Orange were in full control, and the game ended with Syracuse in front 87-73.
It was a good shooting night for both teams. Syracuse shot 61% from the field for the game, including 73% in the second half. The Orange were also 10-17 from beyond the arc. Providence shot 49% for the game, including 6-13 from deep.
Providence out-rebounded the Orange 26-25 on a night when there weren't very many rebounds to be had. Syracuse rebounded much better in the second half, however. The Friars turned it over 13 times, compared to just eight for the Orange. Syracuse really missed Baye Keita as both Christmas (fouled out) and Melo (four fouls) struggled with foul trouble all night. In fact, after Christmas fouled out, CJ Fair played center for a stretch. Keita was nursing a hip injury, and was held out of the game.
Brandon Triche led the Orange with 16 points on 6-8 shooting (4-5 from three). He added three assists and three rebounds. Kris Joseph played well with 13 points, three assists, and two steals. Fab Melo added 11 points and two blocks, while Scoop Jardine had a double-double with 10 points and 11 assists. The best part about Scoop's performance? Only one turnover to go with those 11 assists. Not a bad ratio there. Fair added 12 points and four rebounds, and Waiters 13 to go along with three assists, two steals, and two blocks.
Gerard Coleman and Vincent Council led the Friars with 17 points each. Council added five assists, but also turned it over six times. LaDontae Henton added 11 points and 13 boards. Bryce Cotton had 13 points, four assists, and made three three-pointers.
The officiating was very poor in this game. Make no mistake; I'm not suggesting Syracuse would have won by 25 with good officiating. It's simply something that needs to be mentioned. The block/charge call was inconsistent all night. For much of the first half, they were calling ticky-tack fouls (mostly on Christmas and Melo), and then suddenly were letting a lot of contact go. At one point in the first half, Council made a three and was fouled by Brandon Triche on a questionable call. Later on, Cotton was attempting a three-pointer at the end of the first half. He was contacted significantly more than Council was previously, and there was no call. Christmas fouled out with nine minutes left. At that time, Fab Melo had four fouls, and CJ Fair had three. Providence only had one team foul and only one player with more than two fouls at that time. The officiating was poor from start to finish.
After the game, Scoop Jardine talked about his performance. "I can make plays and they dont always have to be for myself. I put pressure on the defense by running the plays and trying to get in the lane. I was also hitting guys in the right rhythm to make shots.
Coach Jim Boeheim discussed his team's shooting, and poor defensive performance. Weve stopped everybody pretty much this year. We couldnt stop them. We just out-scored them. They did everything they needed to do to win the game. We just made shots. It was the best shooting night weve had all year. If it hadnt happened that way, the game could have very easily gone the other way."
Syracuse moves to 16-0, 3-0 in conference play. Next up is the Marquette game most have had circled on the calendar for a long-time. It will be a revenge game against the team ended the Orange's season last year. Tip-off is slated for 4pm Saturday in the Dome.