Scoop And The Little Things Lead SU To Win
Friday night’s win over Florida will prove to be a great scalp for the Orange come Selection Sunday should the Orange find itself teetering between a two-seed and a one-seed. The outcome will be remembered, and that’s paramount, but this was not a pretty game by your typical standards. The teams combined to shoot just 43% on the night, including 28% from beyond the arc. Take out Erving Walker’s 5-9 night from the perimeter, and the mark plummets to an unsightly 20.5% showing from three, a celebration of clanks and clunks and chases for loose balls. The Orange won despite shooting worse than their opponent, which doesn’t happen often.
Fortunately for Syracuse, basketball is about more than shooting. The Orange continue to be an offensive rebounding juggernaut, pulling down 43.8% of its misses on Friday. They’re the top offensive rebounding team in the country, and that’s with the long-armed Rakeem Christmas playing the role of human stump on the bench as the competition has ratcheted up lately. The dirty work down low proved crucial because the team was so frosty shooting the ball, and without its 15-8 edge in second chance points, the game is even closer than the four-point margin. In fact, a case could be made that Syracuse doesn’t win without its persistence on the glass. I wouldn’t be so sure that I’d buy it, but I think it’s debatable.
One reason I’m not convinced it was solely the difference is because there were other factors controlling the outcome. The Orange worked the Gators from the charity stripe in a way that you just don’t see from Syracuse teams. SU knocked down 17 of its 21 free throws for an 80.9% percentage, marking just the sixth time in the 78 games played since the start of the 2009-10 season that the Orange topped 80%. Content to chuck at will, Florida got to the line only 11 times to the Orange’s 21 trips. Syracuse has never been known as a team that wins on the strength of its free throw shooting prowess, and its struggles are well-chronicled, but in such a close game, the importance of hitting when you’re sent to the line is magnified.
Brandon Triche cooly knocked down all nine of his free throw attempts, and I was glad to hear Jim Boeheim validate the sentiments I feel, that Triche doesn’t know how good he is and that his passive approach is the only thing holding him back from being one of the best guards in the country. Maybe he’s starting to come around, as he’s averaged 15 points over the four games since the team left for Madison Square Garden, but then again, how many times have we fallen for that? Triche is one of the Orange’s best drivers and its best free throw shooter by a wide margin, so to see him embrace contact and capitalizing on his chances was one of the better takeaways from Friday’s game.
Also, I can’t let this post run without talking about Scoop Jardine’s night, specifically, his play in the second half. He assisted on three made shots early in the second half to give the Orange its biggest lead of the game, which was also important because right after that, SU went into a shooting drought, going over five minutes without a field goal as Florida came back to tie the game. Jardine played very good defense, made good passes (including the set inbounds alley-oop to Kris Joseph that really opened things up) and canned a pair of huge free throws late in the game. I said earlier in the post that the Orange may not have won if not for its second chance points, but there’s no doubt that the team loses without Scoop Jardine playing easily one of the best halves of his career.
Friday’s game wasn’t the prettiest one you’ll see this season. If Florida ends up being the best team Syracuse plays this year, it will be a minor shame that the Orange didn’t play a complete game – maybe that’s asking too much, but they certainly did enough to win, and that’s what matters in the grand scheme.