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A career night

It was frigid outside the Dome on Tuesday night (the main reason I didn't trek up to Syracuse), but the action was hot inside the Dome. It was a hard-fought game, which saw seven lead changes, five ties -- including at the end of regulation -- and ended with a total of 169 points scored. Luckily for Syracuse, Rakeem Christmas did his thing, and he did it really well. They say "ball don't lie," and ball was going through the hoop time and time again thanks to Rak. And that happened to be enough for the Orange, as they beat the Demon Deacons 86-83 in overtime.

  • The aforementioned Rakeem Christmas, hands down the most improved player Syracuse has ever seen, had a career night with 35 points on 13-21 from the field and 9-12 from the line. In playing all 45 minutes, Rak fell a rebound short of a double double.
  • Also playing every minute was Trevor Cooney. Cooney found his hot hand as the game progressed, and hit some really difficult shots down the stretch of regulation. In total, Cooney scored 21 on 6-17, including 5-12 from three and 4-6 from the line.
  • Michael Gbinije continued his dual-threat contribution, proving to be a force both driving to the basket and hitting jumpers from outside. His 17 points and eleven rebounds showed great contribution from a player forced to play all over the floor. In large stretches of the game, Gbinije took point guard duties from Kaleb Joseph, who only played 23 minutes.
  • Tyler Roberson's insertion into the starting lineup, replacing injured Chris McCullough, quite frankly resulted in a no-loss situation. While McCullough is the more talented player, his production as of late has been non-existent. So for Tyler to come in, play 44 minutes, score six and grab ten rebounds, well, that's just fine. It was largely mistake-free basketball, and if he could get a few more of his shots to fall (he was only 3-11 in this game), he could be an upgrade over what we were getting from McCullough.
  • ACL injuries suck, and we all feel badly for Chris McCullough. But we've seen it time and again where people with ACL injuries bounce back even stronger, after getting the opportunity to rehab, improve strength and conditioning, and really work on mechanics. These were all things Chris had to do to become an elite player anyway, so while I don't want to call this a blessing in disguise for him, he certainly has the opportunity to turn this negative into a great positive -- for his own sake (eventual NBA draft stock) and hopefully for the Orange in a sophomore season.
  • Wake actually shot better in the game (48.4% to 41.7%), so why did Syracuse win? The Orange limited turnovers (only eight) while taking advantage of Wake's mistakes -- 18 points off 13 turnovers.
As we go forward and play better ACC teams, it'll be interesting to see how the shorter bench effects Syracuse's ability to stay in close games late. The bench -- Ron Patterson & BJ Johnson -- need to capitalize on their minutes instead of having a 3-point contribution like they did on Tuesday night. The Tuesday to Saturday layoff should allow the team to rest from this overtime thriller, and be ready for the game at Clemson.

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