The ability to overcome adversity is a key component of being a good team. Will your lesser-known players be able to step up when a starter goes down or has foul trouble?
The 7th ranked Syracuse Orange faced both of those challenges today and got enough contributions from their lesser-knowns to beat Villanova, 72-61.
Sixth-man of the year candidate James Southerland, the Orange’s second leading scorer, was declared ineligible before today’s game. Syracuse’s leading scorer, Brandon Triche, went to the bench with his fourth foul at the 4:10 mark of the second half with the Orange up, 36-34.
CJ Fair, fresh off a 23 point 11 rebound game, led the way with 22 points and five rebounds. Michael Carter-Williams was solid with 10 points and 10 assists. But it was the three freshmen who stepped up in a big way.
Against Providence on Wednesday, Jerami Grant, Trevor Cooney and DaJuan Coleman combined to play just seven minutes. Knowing coach Jim Boeheim’s penchant for a short bench and veteran players, it seemed highly unlikely that any of the three would see significant minutes any time soon.
That all changed quickly this morning with the news of Southerland’s ineligibility and with Triche’s foul trouble. Boeheim had no choice but to play the kids. And play they did.
Grant had a career high 13 points to go along with six rebounds in 26 minutes of action. The 6’8” Grant will have to get the majority of the playing time normally seen by Southerland. While he can’t approach Southerland as a shooter, he is far more athletic. He’s earning those minutes.
Coleman had the highest expectations of the freshmen and has struggled. He was pulled after two minutes against Providence without coming back in. He lasted until the three-minute mark in the previous game against South Florida and again never returned.
Not so today. The big guy played 16 productive minutes scoring six points and grabbing two rebounds. He was active, involved and provided muscle and energy inside. Expect last year’s New York State Class A player of the year to use today’s performance as a springboard to better play.
We spent last year hearing about the great three-point shooting of red-shirting guard Trevor Cooney. He has had a few good moments this year, but has mostly struggled, hitting only 28 percent from behind the arc.
He didn’t do that much better today, hitting 2-of-6, but they were back to back at a critical point in the game and ignited the crowd and team.
This was a good win for the Orange. Villanova came into town with only the home standing Orange having more wins in the Carrier Dome. The Wildcats have won there 13 times. They’ve also played before the three largest crowds in Carrier Dome history, including an NCAA on-campus record 34,616 in 2010.
Another big crowd saw Villanova coach Jay Wright play the prophet as he said at halftime that the Orange are the best in the country at turning turnovers into points. Syracuse’s 16-3 advantage in points off of turnovers was the difference in the game.
Orange Nation cringes with memories of Fab Melo’s three game suspension last year that turned into permanent ineligibility on the eve of the NCAA tournament. It’s one thing for the young kids, especially Grant, to step up today, and quite another for them to do it consistently the rest of the way, should Southerland not return. If he doesn’t, the Orange go from a serious title contender to a decent team that can dream.
Poor Brandon Triche. His freshman year saw center Arinze Onuaku hurt his knee in the Big East tournament and he couldn’t return for the top-seeded Orange. Last year’s Orange were also a number one seed who lost their center on the eve of March Madness as Melo was suspended.
Let’s hope Southerland returns soon. If he does, it’s quite possible that today’s experience by the freshmen could turn around their seasons and make the Orange even stronger.
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