We have said it a lot this season. A completely different Syracuse came out of the tunnel in the final 20 minute. SU rode a 38-23 second half wave to pick up a 62-47 win over Eastern Michigan. This is the third win against a MAC opponent for the Orange this season.
Four of SU’s five starters finished in double digit scoring, albeit in quite ugly fashion. Frank Howard produced an inefficient shooting game, but got three of his eight threes to drop en route to 11 points. Tyus Battle came alive in the second half with 16 of his 22 points coming in the final stanza. But the most surprising double-figure scorer was Paschal Chukwu, who dropped a career-high 15 points, including 9-of-11 from the free throw line. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would type that sentence.
While SU got one of Chukwu’s best games of his career, it could not have come at a better time. Bourama Sidibe missed his third game of the season with nagging ankle and knee injuries that show no signs of getting better. That led Chukwu to log 37 minutes, but maybe his most impressive stat of the night was that he only picked up three fouls against a talented EMU frontcourt that attacked the interior all night. In fact, the Orange only got whistled for seven fouls, which is important moving forward since the team is banged up on top of the fact that is already thin on depth.
For as poorly as Syracuse played for the majority of this game, the defense was the main consistency. The Orange held an Eagles team that scores a MAC-leading 81.4 points per game to under 25 in each half, which is something that should not go unnoticed. Defense is going to propel this team going into conference play, but who knows how well that is going to stack up against ACC-level talent.
SU’s conference play gets rolling on New Year’s Eve against Virginia Tech. Overall, consider an 11-2 record with losses to No. 2 Kansas and a very good St. Bonaventure team in non-conference play a big success for a team looking to overachieve.