After a sloppy start, Syracuse hit the gas and cruised to a 77-45 win over Cornell in the regular season opener Friday. The Orange’s 2-3 zone suffocated the Big Red, who shot 13-of-25 (25 percent) from the field on its way to the lowest scoring output by an SU opponent since 2014.
A few players earned superlatives for their efforts in the Carrier Dome:
Dennis Green Award (He Is Who We Thought He Was): Tyus Battle
Syracuse needed Battle to grow up in a big way before his sophomore season. The former five-star recruit isn’t just the Orange’s only returning starter — he’s the only one of the team’s top seven scorers from last season who’s back this year. After averaging less than 10 points through his first 27 collegiate games, Battle concluded his freshman campaign by pouring in 17 a night across his final seven outings. Now, he looks ready to carry that hot stretch into the new season.
Battle paced SU with 20 points in each of the team’s two exhibition games and paced the team again when it counted. He scored 18 in just 28 minutes, again leading all scorers. Battle didn’t handle the ball as much as some may have expected, but that’s another role he could step into when the opposition gets tougher.
“I was really happy with Frank [Howard] and Tyus,” Jim Boeheim said. “I thought they were aggressive and looking to make plays.”
Battle must be the go-to guy for Syracuse this season. Through two exhibitions and the regular season opener, he looks up to the task.
Most Impressive Debut: Bourama Sidibe
Paschal Chukwu started at center, but Sidibe looks poised to soak up the majority of the minutes as the anchor of Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone. Sidibe replaced Chukwu less than seven minutes in, and immediately injected life into his new team’s defense. In total, Chukwu saw 20 minutes to Sidibe’s 19, but if the freshman performs the way he did Friday, he’ll roam the restricted area for the majority of most games against stiffer competition. (Chukwu and Sidibe didn’t share the floor for a single second, and probably won’t all season.)
Sidibe swatted a shot into the stands just moments after he checked in for the first time, setting the tone for his entire night. He only finished with two blocks (no other SU player recorded one), but he altered plenty more, and the message he sent to the opposing offense was clear: enter the paint at your own risk.
Sidibe’s quick adoption of the position is a breath of fresh air for Syracuse fans who watched Taurean Thompson look like a fish out of water before transferring to Seton Hall after one season. The absence of a consistent rim protector was a big reason why the Orange ranked 119th in the nation in defensive efficiency last season, per KenPom.com. If SU exceeds expectations this year, it will be due to a ferocious zone, and Sidibe will drive the improvement.
Get That Man a Sandwich: Marek Dolezaj
If Dolezaj weighs 180 pounds (as he’s listed), Shaq weighs 1,000.
We didn’t know a lot about Dolezaj coming into the season, but we knew he was a string bean. The Slovakian freshman was the skinniest player on the floor Friday night, and it wasn’t particularly close. The Big Red’s big men didn’t necessarily push him around, but Dolezaj struggled to move his man throughout the game. Unless he starts training with Barry Bonds, Dolezaj may not able to stay on the floor in ACC games.
Most likely to be grounded: Jimmy Boeheim
Cornell’s Boeheim opened the scoring with a three-pointer right in front of his dad’s bench. The younger Boeheim scored the Big Red’s first five points, and outscored the Orange by himself for the first five or so minutes. In true Boeheim fashion, he didn’t crack a smile and made the referees’ lives miserable.