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SU’s Depth Gets It Done At The Dunk

A lot of what we’ve heard lately – and seen – about this Syracuse team is their depth. They go ten deep. Michael Carter-Williams would start for most of the Big East. Rakeem Christmas would get major minutes anywhere else. Dion Waiters would score 25 points per game if he had to play Jonny Flynn minutes. In any other season, Trevor Cooney wouldn’t be redshirting. While I believe many of those clips that have been thrown out there, until last night, we never really saw that depth become a factor in a close game. Sure, SU’s depth was huge in keeping the foot on the gas pedal against NC State and the bloodbaths against the schedule’s weaker teams. Now, though, we have an idea of what the difference can provide when it’s needed the most.

Before the game even started, SU’s depth chart was trimmed to nine players with Baye Keita sitting. Once the tone of the game was unfortunately set by the officials, rather than the teams, it became clear that Rakeem Christmas would find it hard to stay on the court and Fab Melo would have to navigate foul trouble as well. But SU persevered through the officiating challenge that were compounded by a vocal road environment to escape with the win behind a balanced effort.

When the Orange went into halftime up two, I tweeted that the game was screaming for Brandon Triche to take it over when play resumed. At the time, it wasn’t much more than inkling, but there was some root. The high level of contact, along with the Friars’ struggles with perimeter defense in the first half, figured to play right into his hands as a player who flourishes when he feels like driving, but can also light it up from three. He just needed to take advantage, which is something of a motif for him, and he certainly did in the second half. With SU up by two, the team went on a 15-3 run, and Triche was right in the thick of it, hitting three threes and getting a steal which led to an assist on an eye-popping dunk by Kris Joseph.

No, I have no shame in giving myself a little pat on the back, but I’d still advise against having me buy your lotto tickets, so don’t bother asking. Blind squirrels and nuts and all that.

Of course, Triche wasn’t the only one in on the action. Dion Waiters found a way to contribute despite making just one two-point shot. Melo, forced into playing with foul trouble not just because of the whistles called on him but also because of those called on Christmas and Keita’s injury setback, weathered the storm very well. He scored 11 points, albeit many of them on close looks, but there wasn’t a ton of reaction around the Twitterverse. To me, that’s a sign that he’s now expected to play well every time out. While it’s taken some time for him to get there, in the public eye, he has arrived.

Kris Joseph was steady with 13 points in 32 minutes and Scoop Jardine had his best night since the Florida game. His 11 assists against just one turnover marks his highest single-game assist total with one or fewer turnovers. I’ve been a critic of Scoop throughout his career, so I have to give it to him here. Sometime last season, I had given up hope of him becoming a truly reliable point guard. I still believe that, but if it means that he can still go out and have a game like last night’s, I can deal.

I’m already excited for Saturday’s game against Marquette, but also a tad fearful. The Golden Eagles have been a handful for the Orange ever since Buzz Williams took on coaching duties three years ago. Obviously, the Orange lost both meetings last season, the latter of which ended the ‘Cuse’s tournament run (or maybe “cameo” is more appropriate), but SU hasn’t beaten Marquette by more than five points in regulation since 2008.

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