The Syracuse Orange improved to 8-2 in Big East play with a 77-58 victory over the St. Johns Red Storm on Sunday in the Carrier Dome.
With the win, the Orange remain tied for first place with Marquette and also improve their home winning streak to 37 games, which is the longest active streak in Division I.
But the biggest story of the day was the return to action of forward James Southerland.
The senior missed the last six games after the university declared him ineligible due to an academic issue. Southerland appealed the decision on Friday and was reinstated on Sunday.
Southerland’s return to the lineup has a multifaceted impact on the Orange as they enter the stretch run of the season.
Southerland is Syracuse’s most lethal three-point shooter canning triples at a 38 percent rate.
Back in December he tied a school record with nine in one game in a win against Arkansas on the road.
In the six games Southerland missed, the Orange struggled to make threes connecting on only 29 of 90 attempts. Against the Johnnies, Southerland knocked down three of his seven attempts.
When teams play a zone against Syracuse, he’s the one most likely to make the opponent pay. And at a height of 6’8”, Southerland can get his shot off with ease.
His presence also relieves some pressure from redshirt freshman Trevor Cooney. Despite a
reputation as a deadly shooter, Cooney has struggled to hit threes in his first go around, making only 30 percent of them. With Southerland eligible again, Cooney isn’t forced to be the designated long-range bomber.
Much like Dion Waiters last year, Southerland has been instant offense off the bench all season long.
Syracuse’s bench became even thinner when DaJuan Coleman underwent knee surgery recently. That left Cooney and Baye Keita as the only subs getting the call from Jim Boeheim.
This forced the starters, specifically C.J. Fair, to play more minutes out of necessity. And with Coleman out, more emphasis has been placed on big men Rakeem Christmas and Keita to avoid foul trouble.
Southerland’s return strengthens the fire power off the bench and creates depth at the forward position, allowing Boeheim to give more rest to Fair and to freshman Jerami Grant.
Southerland has the classic body type Jim Boeheim likes to see in his forwards—lean and athletic with a long wing span, which is critical to effectively play the 2-3 zone defense.
The combination of Southerland, Fair, Grant, Christmas, Keita and Coleman (when healthy) gives Boeheim many different rotation options in addition to depth along the baseline of the zone.
If Southerland had been declared permanently ineligible, and with Coleman out, the Orange forwards could not afford to pick up cheap fouls. When that happens, Brandon Triche is forced to play one of the forward spots in the zone.
Triche, despite having a build found in Muscle and Fitness, is only 6’4”. His lack of height allows bigger teams to score inside and rebound with ease against the zone.
While best known for his three-point shooting skills, Southerland is an all-around player.
The senior averages five rebounds per game, which is third on the team. He can also finish in transition—as evidenced by his two-handed flush in his return against St. Johns.
And he can be trusted in late-game situations from the free-throw line, where he is a 76 percent shooter.
So while his three-point shooting brings the Carrier Dome fans to their feet, Southerland has a multitude of abilities that help his team win.
Southerland, like Triche, is a senior. He’s been on a team ranked No. 1 during the regular season, two teams that earned No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament, and last year he played on a Syracuse squad that reached the Elite 8.
He’s been there, done that.
Boeheim’s best teams have always had good senior leadership. Even the championship team of 2003, as young as they were, had Kueth Duany to help right the ship when needed. The stability and calm Southerland provides as a senior is an intangible.