Syracuse was embarking on a tough three game stretch on the road. They had already dispatched pitiful Rutgers at the RAC, but two much tougher opponents awaited. Syracuse had to face #9/10 West Virginia in Morgantown, and then turn around and face always daunting Notre Dame at home in the Joyce Center in South Bend. Both teams have very good coaches and very good players, so the big question was if Syracuse was up to the task, or would they crumble like so many good Big East teams do on the road? The Orange were up to it. They walk away with two more wins in the conference, both on the road, and against one top ten team. A very successful road stand.
January 16th @ West Virginia
Everyone knew this game was going to be a battle. Syracuse entered Morgantown with the best shooting in the Big East, but West Virginia could defend and shoot as well. One of the toughest places to play in the Big East is at Morgantown and this game was no exception. There were several lead changes, and Syracuse saw a double digit lead erode in the last few minutes as West Virginia hit three after three after three in the closing moments of the game to bring the Syracuse's lead within one point. Syracuse missed two free throws from Kris Joseph, but because he missed the second West Virginia couldn't set up a play and their game winning shot floated harmlessly to the ground. Syracuse escaped West Virginia with a huge (as huge as one point can be) win 72 to 71.
Syracuse was led in scoring by Brandon Triche on 6-8 shooting and 2-3 from behind the arc. He also had five assists in the game. That counteracted his five turnovers in the game, most of which were in the first few minutes. Despite the early turnovers he finally started playing like he's been on the team for half a season and controlled the ball well, including against the WVU press.
Rick Jackson led the team on the glass with 10 boards. Syracuse actually outrebounded a strong rebounding team in West Virginia. The Orange had 35 rebounds to WVU's 25. Jackson also finished with eight points.
Wes Johnson didn't do his usual scoring bit in this game as he was sick with a flu, however he still managed 13 points on 4-7 shooting and 5-7 free throws. That was also good enough to tie for second in scoring on the team. Kris Joseph also had 13 points on 4-6 shooting and 5-8 from the free throw line. Two of those are again the missed two at the end of the game.
Andy Rautins, coming off his best game of the year at Rutgers, had a hot and cold day, as he missed a couple of wide open looks, but hit some downright nasty shots later in the contest. He finished with 12 points shooting 5-12 from the floor. He also hit 2-7 from behind the arc and had seven key rebounds in the contest.
Syracuse shot the ball extremely well in this game. They shot 57.8% from the floor and a reasonable 33.3% from behind the arc. They also held WVU to just 39.3% shooting on the day. SU also held them to just 10-26 from long range, and had they not hit those big three at the end of the game, it would have been even better.
Syracuse would escape with the one point win against the top ten team, but on one days rest they had to turn around and play at Notre Dame. While traditionally Syracuse has beaten Notre Dame, they struggled last time they were at the Joyce, and Harangody is always dangerous to score a lot.
January 18th @ Notre Dame
Syracuse came out on fire thanks to Andy Rautins hitting RIDICULOUS threes from way back. Notre Dame hit some threes of their own as well. But it was all Orange after the score was 23 all. Notre Dame brought it within three after a pair of free throws on an intentional foul call against Andy Rautins for an inadvertent elbow in trying to clear the ball. But the Orange would soon come back as the inside game of Arinze Onuaku and Wes Johnson out powered the Notre Dame offense, despite Notre Dame's Luke Harangody picking up 31 points and 14 boards. Syracuse earns a 13 point win on the teams first three game road trip since the 2003-2004 season. Syracuse wins 84 to 71.
Your leading scorer for Syracuse was Johnson who had 22 points in this game. He also had eight rebounds. Johnson was able to score in transition and had several big dunks in this game. Notre Dame was barely able to contain him near the basket. He needs to improve his shot selection from inside the arc when shooting jumpers however. The eight rebounds lead the team as well.
Rautins was on fire like I said. He made 5-9 three point buckets and made 6-6 free throw attempts. He also earned four rebounds and two assists.
Onuaku had a nice 13 points in this game on 4-7 shooting from the floor. He miraculously also made 7-11 from the free throw line. I believe at least four of which were swishes in a row. Onuaku continues to be lazy and fall asleep on defense however, occasionally not aggressive enough in going to the hoop, and allows other players to swat the ball from his strong hands. He continues to underachieve for what we know his potential can be.
Syracuse shot 49.1% (26-53) on the day and 47.1% (8-17) from long range. That is far better than Notre Dame's 38.8% (26-67) and an abysmal 26.7% (8-30) from behind the arc. Notre Dame really shot themselves out of this game, which is what typically happens when a team is playing a really tough zone defense. Syracuse also led in steals, blocks, and rebounds. Both teams finished with 11 turnovers. A number that Syracuse should strive to stay around.
Syracuse swept the three games on the road, and now they return to the comfy confines of the Carrier Dome to take on Marquette this Saturday, a team that shoots the three better than any other team in the nation. It should be a good one. For now, #5 Syracuse is content knowing they put in the work and earned the reward of picking up three more wins.