|This is the hurricane that slammed into the Bahamas last week|
Before leaving for the Bahamas, Syracuse played the first game of the Battle 4 Atlantis at the Carrier Dome, and won, improving to 3-0 on the season. Those three wins were examples of how we thought this team would be: decent, winning the winnable games, young, not dominant, and with lots of room for improvement. So knowing that if the team could advance passed Charlotte in the first game at Atlantis, either Texas or UConn would be waiting, probably scared some of us. Playing either of those teams in January or February (or March or April), well, sure. But this young team might not have what it takes to play one of those teams in November. Maybe it was the magic of the islands, the thrill of Thanksgiving, or just the pure talent, but Syracuse made a statement. Several, actually.
Syracuse vs. Charlotte
Basically from the opening tip, Syracuse owned this game. The 49ers certainly weren't favored to win -- they had previously lost to Elon -- and the Orange made sure it showed they were the dominant team. It helps when you shoot as well as Syracuse did (54.29% in the first half) to streak out to a 50-27 halftime lead. Charlotte bounced back in the second half, as Syracuse wasn't able to keep up that production but still never let it get too close. I'd say Michael Gbinije couldn't miss, but he did -- only two shots of his 11 attempts didn't go in, and they were both beyond the arc. Otherwise, he hit six 3's and led all scorers with 26 points. More on him later. Tyler Lydon continued to do his thing, contributing 18 points and being such a presence on the floor. Even Trevor Cooney got 19, despite only hitting three 3's. What's most notable in terms of an improvement from the first three games is that Syracuse found some balance -- 30 points in the paint. Syracuse beat Charlotte 83-70.
Syracuse vs. Connecticut
It's basically constitutional law that anytime Syracuse plays UConn, all anyone can talk about is the six overtime thriller in the 2009 Big East Tournament. And that's fine, because Syracuse won that. We'll always have that. 18-ranked Connecticut so wanted to be the brick wall for Syracuse to run into in this tournament on Paradise Island, but the Orange had some swagger from Wednesday's game. They were looking for a Thanksgiving feast, but it was husky, not turkey, on the menu. This game wasn't a 6OT thriller, but it was a very exciting game featuring several tied scores (including at halftime) and several lead changes. UConn had the advantage early, growing its lead to 10 at 13:39 in the first, but Syracuse fought back for that halftime tie. Syracuse then built a 10-point lead of its own by 7:47 to go in the game. Gbinije and Lydon had great games again, along with Cooney and Malachi Richardson stepping up their offensive production as well. Tyler Roberson was also much improved, with a rebound short of a double double on the day. Great team effort for the win over UConn, 79-76. There was talk after the game about these schools -- once conference rivals -- reaching an agreement to play each other on a regular basis. This game had that feel to it, as many of those conference & BET games did, and I don't think you'll find a fan of either school that wouldn't want there to be at least semi-regular meetings of these teams.
Syracuse vs. Texas A&M
Sure, Syracuse was the underdog against #18 UConn the day before, but that hard-fought victory had no matter to the odds makers in determining Syracuse would again be underdog against #25 Texas A&M in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship. My fear entering the game was that the Aggies would be too big or too physical for Syracuse to handle, and/or get hot shooting the 3 as they'd be tempted to against the 2-3 zone. Plus, it was going to be difficult to keep the Syracuse shooters hitting those shots at the same clip they had been in the previous days. But hey, when things are going well, things are going well. And the Syracuse shooting did cool off -- but 44% from three and nearly 80% from the foul line is gonna get you places. This was yet another games where the usuals did well -- and damn, Tyler Lydon continues to play well ahead of his time -- but Roberson's production trailed off a bit. What was great to see, both in this tournament but particularly in this game, was the improvement of Dajuan Coleman. While he struggled at times and was on a short leash, he ended up with decent minutes in this game and made the most of them -- four points, six rebounds, and was just an active presence under the basket. I hope some confidence can carry over for Coleman so he can play more minutes and allow Lydon more time at forward -- think of how many more points he could score! With this 74-67 win over the Aggies, Syracuse is your 2015 Battle 4 Atlantis champions!
What a great tournament for Syracuse! It ended up to be the stepping out party for several players, and for the team as a whole. Finally, some national attention at how good this team is, and how good they could be. That was surely reflected when the national polls were released today (#14 AP, #19 Coaches). But now is no time to rest on your laurels -- Wednesday features a home game against the Wisconsin Badgers in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge; Saturday brings the real rivalry renewed when the Orange travels to DC to face Georgetown; and eight days later a trip to MSG to face St. John's. I'll be at all of those games, and of course we'll have coverage here on Orange::44.
PS -- rumor has it if you put your ear up to the seashell on the Battle 4 Atlantis trophy, you can hear chants of "UConn... USuck!"