|"Don't play defense like a praying mantis!"|
Hey folks. Brian and I have both been pretty busy the past few weeks with work and whatnot (being a lawdog isn't all fun & games), so we've gotten a little behind in blog updates. Brian's done a good job at least posting game previews, and he just got the Duke recap up -- which means I can move on to the dirty stuff: recapping the Notre Dame game and the Clemson game, both of which I had the "pleasure" of attending.
I'll be honest: I was telling people all day last Monday that Syracuse would lose this game. The Fighting Irish had been such an up-and-down team this season -- much like North Carolina -- that I figured they certainly had the talent and ability to win. Combine that with Syracuse having a quick turnaround from the overtime win against Duke the Saturday before, and it all just seemed to make sense to me. Of course, I also kept telling people that I'm wrong all the time, and hoped this was one of those times. Ancient history now, but without Trevor Cooney, I would've been spot on with this prediction. Instead, Cooney scored 57% of Syracuse's points, including tying the Orange all-time record nine made three point baskets in a game. Syracuse beat Notre Dame in this one 61-55.
- I think the last time Trevor Cooney got any sort of props from this blog was before ACC play began. So, way back in 2013. Man, those were the days, right? Anyway, Cooney comes out sneaky, trying to lull the Irish into complacency by missing his first attempted three. Then, he skipped NBA Jam's "Heating Up" and went directly to Dan Patrick's "en fuego." Here's the line: 39 minutes (team high), 33 points (team high), 11-15 from the field including 9-12 from three, a couple made foul shots, and even four steals to throw in some nice defense.
- While Cooney provided the scoring, the wasn't setting up the threes all by himself; Syracuse had 16 assists in this game, with eight of them coming from Tyler Ennis. Great ball movement and running of plays allowed Cooney to find an open spot, catch a pass, and put it up.
- Cooney was asked after the game if he feared his production would go down now that teams know they should probably cover him more. Being a good teammate, Trevor rightly pointed out that more attention on him leaves another player or players open, so whatever helps the team is fine with him.
- While the Irish didn't play a terrible game, and their strategy to try to slow things down limited Syracuse scoring opportunities, they just couldn't find an answer to Cooney. This, despite shooting a respectable 40.8% from the field and 33.3% from three, and having Garrick Sherman, Steve Vasturia, and Pat Connaughton in double digit scoring.
- The Cooney effort also helped Syracuse hide a not so good night on the boards, being out-rebounded by Notre Dame 33-28.
Whether it was physical exhaustion, mental exhaustion, or both, Syracuse needed a Monday-to-Sunday layoff between these games. Not that the Tigers are going to out-physical anyone, but with the top defense in the conference, Syracuse had to have its legs under it to be able to score when it had its limited opportunities. That worked out fine for Syracuse, who saw another great night from its senior leader CJ Fair, who led the team to a 57-44 victory over Clemson.
- CJ wins BMOC honors for his 19-point effort on Sunday night. Boeheim called it a very efficient game for CJ, particularly in the first half. Fair was 8-13 on the night, including one from deep, and grabbing seven rebounds in 39 minutes of play.
- Jerami Grant was able to put points on the board (12) despite struggling from the field (5-12). His trademark highlight of the game came not on a slam, but on the Orange's first field goal of the game, as Grant got turned around, chucked the ball up behind him, and it dropped in the basket. Pretty, for sure.
- Trevor Cooney couldn't replicate the career game he had last Monday (and nobody expected him to) but he still scored 11 points, including 3-7 from three. He also continued his activity at the top of the zone, taking three steals.
- I'll go back to Grant for this stat: eight rebounds. This is in part because of a new role he had in this game: center of the zone. This was due in large part to Rakeem Christmas being in foul trouble, and Baye Moussa Keita coming out with a knee injury in the first half and not returning. In a position already thin with DaJuan Coleman out for the rest of the season with his own injury, Syracuse had to be a little creative. This led to Tyler Roberson getting some minutes (seven). Keita is day to day, currently undecided for the Pitt game on Wednesday, so we'll have to see how things shake out. But for purposes of this Clemson game, the adjustments made by Syracuse kept them in a position to win.
- In what seemed like a very slowly-paced game, Clemson wasn't able to capitalize on its offensive opportunities when wearing down the shot clock, and wasn't able to "shut it down" on defense to limit Orange scoring. The Tigers shot a sad 34.1% for the game, making only 14 field goals. You're usually not gonna see a team win with putrid numbers like that.
- Syracuse did not win by 24 points.
With these two wins, Syracuse is off to a 23-0 start, and a 10-0 start in the conference for the first time in school history. For those keeping track at home, that's also Syracuse's best start in ACC history (1 year). It's kind of hard to believe that we're still in the first half of February and Syracuse is down to its last three home games, but that's where we are. But before we get to home games, Wednesday night's showdown at the Pete against Pittsburgh looms. Pitt's in a bit of a slide recently, but they always play tough at home, and Syracuse historically hasn't played well there. But this is now, and now is what matters. Let's see what happens.