The first half of Syracuse’s (5-2) 77-71 win over North Florida was one that the Orange would like to forget.
Although SU led 34-23 entering the intermission, the offense was hesitant, lackadaisical and frankly, playing down to its competition.
Things were wacky even before the opening tip. After never switching up his starting lineup all of last season, Jim Boeheim went small ball and gave the starting nod to freshman Tyus Battle over senior Tyler Roberson.
“It was an adjustment, but it doesn’t really matter, starting or coming off the bench, you just want to get out there and play,” Battle said. “I always have the need to prove something every time I step on the floor. I just tried to do the little things. Hustle, make good plays on the floor, stuff like that.”
If the Orange were going up against a Power Five opponent, SU could have found itself down big. Syracuse wasn’t closing out on shooters, but luckily for the Orange, North Florida was shooting like, well, North Florida. SU also wasn’t attacking the glass, allowing 10 offensive boards in the first.
But the second half was a completely different story.
Jim Boeheim lit the fire under his team’s feet and the Orange came out of the locker room and rattled off a 12-2 run.
Unlike the first half, Syracuse was getting in the passing lanes and forcing turnovers. Franklin Howard was the main contributor in that department. The sophomore had three of the Orange’s four steals through the first four minutes of the second half.
But one thing was consistent for the Orange throughout. It was its bread and butter last year and also served as the only reason Syracuse was not losing by double digits at the half: the deep ball. SU knocked down eight triples in the first half, and followed that up with five in the second.
While Andrew White III lit up the scoreboard and put to rest all the second half struggles jokes in the process, it was Howard who elevated his game the most. The point guard finished with a double double of 10 points and 13 rebounds, supplemented by four steals on the defensive end.
“I got back to being not one track minded,” Howard said. “As far as trying to score, I just played, took what the defense gave me. They were collapsing so I made the pass. I think the last few games I was kind of focused on shooting the ball a little more than I did.”
But as the second half progressed, things got a little too close for comfort for the Orange. The Ospreys went on a 31-15 run near the end of the half to slice the SU lead to as little as five.
“I think we did a good job of keeping the lead because [UNF] had momentum,” Battle said. “They were knocking down tough threes. So at the end of the day I thought we did a good job, but we just can’t get lazy in the second half.”
With an old Big East foe in UConn on the horizon on Monday, the competitive juices are flowing once again for SU players and fans. While only four players have participated in this rivalry, even new guys like White know this game extends beyond the guys on the floor.
“You just think about all the people who are not on the court who are so invested in what’s going on,” White said. “I can’t imagine what we’re going to be getting into on Monday because I’m a newcomer to this kind of situation at Syracuse. So, I’m just going to put my hard hat on and make sure I give my best effort because I know there’s a lot of people watching from the previous years, from the Big East years, looking for Syracuse to win.”