After days of relaxation in Maui, the Syracuse Orange experienced a bit of stress Monday night defeating Minnesota, 75-67. The game was close until about two minutes left in the game, when the Orange hit six out of seven free throws down the stretch to lock up a win and look to today’s game against California. The game will be a rematch of last year’s NCAA tournament round three matchup between Syracuse and the Golden Bears. California is coming off a win in Maui against the Arkansas Razorbacks.
C.J. Fair finished the contest with a double-double despite struggling in the first half. Fair scored 16 points and grabbed 10 boards. He did, however, commit five turnovers, three of which came in the first half. But Fair proved why he is a Wooden Award candidate, nailing almost every 15-foot jumper he took in the second half. Fair has been expected to take his leadership to the next level, as he is one of just two seniors on the team. He showed tremendous poise in a tough game away from home.
DaJuan Coleman and Trevor Cooney were two big question marks coming into the season. Both had limited minutes last season but were put in starting roles at the beginning of this year. Luckily for the team, both have had drastic improvement. Coleman has started to become a major factor in the paint. Although he does not have the height of Fab Melo, Coleman has used his size to dominate on both sides of the floor. He has been muscling his opponents for defensive position and has become visibly more aggressive in scoring. On the other hand, Trevor Cooney has been using his fluid shot to score from everywhere behind the arc. We have discussed how much pressure there was on Cooney to come in and automatically produce for the Orange. Although he struggled from 3-point land against Fordham, Colgate and St. Francis, he has shown improvement in other areas. His ball handling and defensive ability have turned Cooney into a bigger asset for Jim Boeheim. It also takes the pressure off of having to make every shot to avoid going to the bench like last season. Both these players have not played up to their potential yet this season, but Cooney and Coleman have shown flashes of what they are capable of.
After Jim Boeheim let him hear it last week, Tyler Ennis continued to take too many shots instead of dishing the ball out. The freshman finished 1-9 from the field. He also finished with a career-high five steals. A silver lining for Ennis was his lack of turnovers. In fact, Ennis did not commit a single turnover the entire game. The problem is how to interpret that statistic. Not turning the ball over is the main goal for a point guard, but does it mean that Ennis is not passing enough? Whereas Michael Carter-Williams used to pass too much and created a plethora of turnovers, Ennis seems to be doing the opposite. He is still taking the ball to the hoop too much instead of finding the open man. It is not necessarily selfish play; it is the fact that Ennis wants to do too much when he simply is not ready to. Finding a middle ground between passing and taking the ball to the basket will be the biggest challenge for Ennis in the coming weeks.
A major positive from last night’s game was Syracuse’s free-throw percentage. Syracuse has struggled from the line all season but went 22-27 against the Golden Gophers. Three of those misses came from DaJuan Coleman, who went 3-of-6. Tyler Ennis went 10-of-11 to make up for his low field-goal percentage. Boeheim knows that if this team wants to stay in the top 10, it will need to hit its free throws. Because this team has areas of inexperience and a lack of depth, mainly in the backcourt, free throws are a great way to cut into leads and put games away, like last night.
California will be looking to pull the upset in Hawaii later today. Highly touted freshman Jabari Bird will be the Orange’s biggest headache, as he leads the Golden Bears scoring attack with 13.5 PPG. Another player to look out for is David Kravish, who scored 19 points and had 15 boards against Arkansas yesterday. Will Syracuse take one step closer to their third Maui Invitational Championship?
Posted by: Zephan Mayell