It wasn’t Malice in the Palace. It wasn’t Melo fighting the Nuggets. But it sure felt like it.
Judah Mintz elevated from the free throw line, lofting a right-handed floater off the back rim and in. As the freshman guard came down, he crashed into Bryant guard Sherif Gross-Bullock. A charge was called; in a physical first 12 minutes, a normal basketball play.
Then all hell broke loose.
Mintz got his sneaker caught on Gross-Bullock’s. As Bryant’s Doug Edert went to help up his teammate, the Bulldog gave Mintz a slight shove. Words were exchanged, and Mintz slapped Edert. As Syracuse’s star guard went back down the court, Edert wound up and swung an open hand at the right side of Mintz’s jaw.
Bryant’s bench cleared. John Bol Ajak flew in to protect his teammate. Head coaches Jared Grasso and Jim Boeheim exchanged heated words.
“Judah just pushed, he can’t do that,” Boeheim said. “He can’t react in that situation…He’s our best player.”
The melee ended in nine ejections: Mintz, Edert, Bryant players Kvonn Cramer and Tyler Brelsford and assistant coaches Chris Cole and Pete Martelli, Jr. Syracuse assistants Adrian Autry, Allen Griffin and director of basketball operations Pete Corasaniti were also sent to an early shower.
Bryant led the entire first half. The post-fight action turned into a slow Orange hill climb. Syracuse regained momentum after halftime, mounting a nine-minute comeback which trimmed the Bulldogs’ lead that was once 13 down to one with four minutes remaining. SU got in front for the first time a minute later.
As the game came down to its final moments, the teams traded buckets, free throws, and the lead. Gross-Bullock picked off a Joe Girard crosscourt pass and dunked it in transition. Justin Taylor and Girard made a combined three of four three throws on SU’s next two possessions. With a one point ‘Cuse advantage and seven seconds remaining, Gross-Bullock raced down the floor and dropped a floater in to seal Bryant’s 73-72 win.
Antwan Walker led the Bulldogs with 18 points. Gross-Bullock, Charles Pride and Earl Timberlake also finished in double figures.
After the fight, Bryant continued to build on its early lead with crisp ball movement and transition layups. Without Mintz’s slashing ability, the SU offense turned stagnant for the majority of the first half against Bryant’s 2-3 zone. The Orange shot 31 percent from the field and trailed by 11 at the half.
After the half, Syracuse ripped off an 8-0 run, and continued to chip away at the Bryant lead. The comeback was fueled by Taylor, who after barely playing in Brooklyn, found his stroke with a game-high 25 points, Chris Bell, who scored 9 of his 14 points in the second half and Jesse Edwards, who played the majority of the second half with four fouls and racked up a 12 point, 21 rebound double-double.
“I thought the two freshmen, Justin and Chris, really tried to get us back in the game,” Boeheim said. “Justin had already started a little bit [before Mintz was ejected]. Chris found an opening in the middle and made two or three buckets in there.”
The Orange finally took the lead for the first time with 3:12 remaining; Timberlake promptly euro-stepped past Edwards on the other end, scooping in a right-handed layup and drawing the SU center’s fifth foul.
“The first couple fouls [Jesse] gets take him out of the game,” Boeheim said. “If he’s in at the end, he blocks that shot.”
The lead would change hands four more times, then with 50 seconds left, Taylor drove down the left alley, and elevated for a 12-foot jumper. Walker slapped his wrist, was whistled for his fifth personal, then assessed a technical foul as well. Taylor sank three of the four free throws.
Postgame, Boeheim and Grasso had a testy exchange post-handshake. The 47-year Orange head man said two Bryant players ran off the court and didn’t shake hands with his team. Grasso was hot the entire game, constantly chirping the referees and his own players. Regardless of the method, he got the best out of his team, which hit SU in the mouth metaphorically, and literally.
Fizz Focal Points
- Joe Girard III was a non-factor for the entire game. JG3 was 1-12 of the field, 1-8 from three and constantly passed the ball away in the game’s final two minutes.
- John Bol Ajak played 25 minutes contributing two points and six rebounds. Boeheim thought Ajak “knows how to play against the [Bryant] zone.”
- Benny Williams only played 8 minutes. Boeheim noted Williams was “ill” during halftime. Mounir Hima also missed the game with a lower body injury, and is questionable to play Tuesday.
- Bryant’s tallest players (Walker and Tay Mosher) were 6-foot-8. The Bulldogs grabbed 11 offensive boards and scored 34 points in the paint.