Flights from Houston to Syracuse aren‚Äôt cheap. Nor are they direct. That‚Äôs why John Gillon made sure his mother got her money‚Äôs worth for her trip to central New York that began with an 82-72 signature win over No. 6 Florida State. It‚Äôs the first ranked win for the Orange since a year ago today, and the first win against a top 10 team for SU since the 2014-15 campaign.
After building up an 18 point halftime lead, the Orange faltered coming out of the break. The Seminoles came out on a 23-8 run in the second half. Sure, Syracuse could have blamed fatigue or being the lesser skilled team. Instead, Gillon, amongst others, stepped up their games.
It‚Äôs tough for a guy like Gillon, listed at a generous 6-feet, to go up against the trees that Florida State has in Michael Ojo (7-1) and Christ Koumadje (7-4). Instead of folding down the stretch, the Colorado State transfer elevated his game, scoring the Orange‚Äôs final 13 points. All of this comes in the midst of criticism over the team‚Äôs point guard play. But all 24,978 fans in the Carrier Dome today were behind Gillon.
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt believe that hard work pays off after just one or two days,‚Äù Gillon said.‚ÄùI think over time, things start to click and I think our hard work from past weeks started to pay off… I feel like I get a lot of hate and it just feels good to have positive people.‚Äù
But it wasn‚Äôt just the scoring where Gillon thrived. The point guard posted his second double-double of the season and third game with 11 assists. All of that came along with 21 points.
‚Äú[Gillon was] getting to the basket and causing the defense to converge on him,‚Äù fellow backcourt mate Tyus Battle said. ‚ÄúHe was finding us out there and he did a great job.‚Äù
Alongside Gillon, Andrew White III had another spectacular game with a game-high 24 points. But it was his defense that was more important. The Nebraska transfer was notably more active with his hands and tied a career-high with four steals. As the pieces slowly start to come together for the Orange on defense, White seems to have found his footing in the zone.
‚ÄúYou don‚Äôt have a lot of guys who come in here for one year and master that zone, especially playing against the best players in the best conference in the country,‚Äù White said. ‚ÄúI‚Äôve watched a lot of extra film with Coach [Gerry McNamara] and Coach [Adrian] Autry and just try to lock in a little more into the scouting report. I just have a better eye for it now since I‚Äôve seen it more, so hopefully, as far as my individual defense, this is my turning point.‚Äù
With a number of tough games on the docket, the turning point has come for the Orange. All but one of the Orange‚Äôs remaining games either comes on the road or against a ranked opponent. And that one game that does not fit the criteria could certainly change. It‚Äôs a home date against Georgia Tech, who just beat these very Seminoles and No.14 Notre Dame in the same week. Not to mention, the Yellow Jackets opened ACC play with a win against then 9th ranked North Carolina.
‚ÄúWe just [need] to go [into the next game] with the same attitude and don‚Äôt take a win for granted and just go and win,‚Äù Gillon said.
Phyllis Gillon could have picked any game to go to this year. If she was trying to see a win, this probably was not the one to choose. But I guess, mother knows best.