Once again, Syracuse made us all sweat when it probably should’ve been an easier win, but the dagger was eventually placed squarely in the heart of the Huskies Saturday night. Exactly how it should be. SU thoroughly dominated UConn in the first half. It felt more like an Orange exhibition. With all due respect to Kentucky, if Syracuse plays like it did in the first half, no one can beat SU. But of course there was a second half, and it again came down to the wire. But the Orange found yet another way to survive. Here’s 5 thoughts after covering another SU-UConn classic at Gampel.
- The K-Jo Effect.
The whole game changed when Kris Joseph headed to the bench shortly after half. The senior had set the tone in the first, and SU led by 14 with 17:00 to play. But without K-Jo the offense was lost and one-dimensional. Everything was off high screen and roll with either Scoop Jardine or Dion Waiters trading possessions, and Fab Melo endlessly ran sprints from the post to the top of the key. It had created all sorts of opportunities for everyone in the first half, but the spacing was off without Kris. The mere threat of him getting the ball on a reversal, and driving was enough to set everything else in motion. With that gone UConn climbed back.
- ‘Cuse Composure Rises Again.
As it has done all year long, Syracuse made plays when it mattered most. Jardine, Waiters and Joseph all had huge drives. Melo nabbed the game-winning tip (see below for more on that play). Dion sealed it with an unbelievable, fully extended block. It’s not a fluke when you’ve done it all season. Jim Boeheim’s squad is 4-0 in one possession games this year. Coaching matters. Boeheim has 400 Big East wins for a reason. He might not be on the Mount Rushmore, but he’s still an all-time great and this season he has been (outside the Eastern Michigan press conference) nothing short of masterful.
- The Final Play.
Even a blind Otto finds his Nike swoosh cap sometimes. The Fizz called the last play and didn’t know it. Courtside on Twitter The Fizz called for a high screen and roll and discarded the notion SU would run the same play it did against Georgetown. The play was designed for C.J. Fair because the Orange didn’t think Andre Drummond could stay in front of him. Boeheim was right. Unfortunately for SU, Melo didn’t clear out fast enough and the play didn’t develop quite right. Fair still got off a shot and Fab redeemed himself by flushing home the rebound for the eventual game-winner.
- Youth is Served.
Michael-Carter Williams was fantastic in this game. It was inauspicious start after committing a mistake just before a timeout. But he learned quickly, banking in a three out of the break and then dishing off two quick assists and playing solid defense. Big East Tournament time MCW may get significant minutes if SU plays 3 games in 3 days. As the freshman left the court, Boehiem said exactly two words to him. “Great job.”
- Big Man Liability.
Baye Keita is a shell of his former self. There was talk last year Keita could wind up being better than Fab. He showed flashes of defensive brilliance in ’10-’11, while Fab couldn’t stay on the floor. That now seems more ridiculous than Dion not retweeting anyone after a game. Keita is awful right now. Saturday night there was a series where he bobbled a perfect pass, then tried to lay the ball in instead of dunking it. It showed how uncomfortable he is. Depth behind Melo is easily the Orange’s biggest question going into March. All of a sudden Fair at center, with Joseph and Southerland on the wings (when Fab needs a rest) doesn’t sound too bad. Keita has a negative impact on offense and Drummond treated him like a rag doll. Can Boeheim afford to continue giving Keita minutes in March?
Posted: Craig Hoffman