What did we learn from Syracuse’s nail-biting win over NC State? Plenty. Let’s take a peek under the hood:
1) No game is ever over for this Orange squad, no matter how bleak it looks. Syracuse trailed in the final seconds of the game, and twice with the lead the Wolfpack had a chance to ice it. But instead of folding, the Orange produced two of its biggest defensive plays of the year. Syracuse’s defensive pressure forced Desmond Lee to dribble off his leg and out of bounds. Then the Orange trapped Anthomy Barber and stole the pass away. Without those plays Syracuse would’ve been handed its first loss of the season. Instead, SU pulled out another win. Syracuse has one of its stiffest tests of the season when it travels to #5 Duke Saturday. Right now the Orange has some of the best odds to cut down the nets. For more information and betting lines you can read This Guide to Teams Getting Hot in March.
2) Tyler Ennis and CJ Fair have short memories. Before the final play, Fair was a measly 4-of-15 for 9 points on the evening. Ennis had just committed a brutal offensive foul, which resulted in a turnover in the final seconds. But after the errant pass by Barber, the two leaders of the Orange made the play to win it. Ennis pushed down floor in high gear, then dropped it off to Fair who laid it in (and got the hoop interference call). Ennis was only 3-of-10 on the night, but made the important drive and dish to win it.
3) This was Rakeem Christmas’ best game of the season. Rarely do we ever say, “Thank goodness for Rak.” Largely in his time on the Hill, fans have been expecting more out of the big man. In the tourney a few years back, his job filling in for a suspended Fab Melo was tremendous. But that was the exception, not the rule in Rak’s career. On Saturday evening, Christmas was Syracuse’s high scorer with 14 points. He also added 12 rebounds. While SU doesn’t have traditional power bigs inside, if Rak can give you double-digit rebounds it’s a huge advantage. Jerami Grant also added 14 boards. Good job by both of them to control the glass.
4) When Syracuse’s shooting is off, the Orange needs to find other ways to score. NC State’s defense harassed the Orange for much of the night. But at other times Syracuse was just plain missing open looks. Ennis shot just 3-of-10. So did Trevor Cooney. Fair ended up 5-of-16. These are the games SU needs to find a way to the free throw line (which it did) and get put backs off misses. It’s an important lesson come March, although you hope shooting isn’t off that badly in the tournament.