Despite shooting below 30 percent from the field in the first half, the Syracuse Orange found its shooting touch in the second half on its way to an 84-35 victory in the final exhibition game of the season over the Adrian Bulldogs, Monday.
Led by freshman forward Chris McCullough and senior center Rakeem Christmas, the Orange was able to own the glass at both ends of the floor while getting to the free throw line with relative ease all game long.
“Coach wanted us to get the ball in the post and go up strong while being aggressive,” Christmas said. “We were able to do that, and we were able to kick the ball out to our shooters for open shots.”
From the start, Christmas and McCullough were able to have their way in the paint. Combined, the two pulled down 21 rebounds, 12 of which were offensive boards which led to second chance put-backs. With those put-backs and offensive rebounds came trips to the free throw line with regularity.
On the night, the Orange shot 29 free throws, compared to six from the Bulldogs. Despite the size mismatch and level of competition, head coach Jim Boeheim said the felt that it was a good experience for the Orange to go through leading up to its season opener, Friday, against Kennesaw State.
“Obviously they [Adrian] are a smaller team, so we had a size advantage in the post,” Boeheim said. “It was a good experience for our big men to get. We had a lot of open looks, which is good, but we’ve got to start knocking them down.”
“Any practice you have is important, but any time you can play a game it’s something different,” Boeheim said. “You have to react to stuff, which we did. But, it’s a learning experience for the young guys. It was good for us; that’s why we scheduled them.”
While it’s a positive experience for the young Orange players playing in games against opponents like Adrian before the regular season gets rolling, the key takeaway from this game was the experience and the energy that the Orange defense showed time after time against the overmatched Bulldogs.
Forcing 13 steals and 10 blocks led to easy buckets in transition for Kaleb Joseph, Michael Gbinije and Ron Patterson, the latter two of which combined for an alley-oop in the second half that ignited the crowd.
With the zone allowing the Orange to transition to offense early and often, it played right into the hands of Joseph’s run-and-gun mentality in the open floor. Dishing out six assists, including an impressive assist to Patterson in transition seemed to open things up for the Orange.
“Coach emphasizes every day in practice to get out and run, so that’s what we try and do on the floor,” Joseph said. “It’s about reading the defense. I think every single time we get it we’re going to look to push.
“We were able to do that tonight.”
Along with the transition game clicking from the get-go, the Orange was able to create space in the half court set as well by dumping it into the post to Christmas and McCullough, which gave shooters like Cooney and Patterson plenty of room to operate. Patterson, who’s riding a hot streak in these first two exhibition games, said he feels confident every time he touches the ball. Against the Bulldogs, Patterson finished 4-for-10 from the field, including 2-of-7 from beyond the arc.
“The stroke feels good right now,” Patterson said. “I’m trying to carve out a role. I’m trying to let coach know that I can play. My confidence level is very high right now.”
With Patterson providing big shots off the bench for the Orange, Cooney continued his struggles from the floor, finishing 4-of-13 from the floor, including 2-of-9 from 3-point range. On most of his jumpers, Cooney’s shot came up noticeably short as they clanged off the front iron repeatedly.
“I thought Trevor took a lot of good shots,” Boeheim said. “I’m not okay with them not going in, but he had a lot of good looks from the floor tonight.”
As a team, the Orange finished 28-of-70 (40 percent) from the floor for the game. Three-point range was another story as the Orange shot just 8-of-27 (29.6 percent) from deep.
McCullough finished with 13 points and 16 rebounds, including 9-of-9 from the free throw line. Joseph finished with a near triple-double of 9 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists, and Gbinije chipped in with 10 points, 6 assists and 3 rebounds.
Now that the exhibition schedule is over, the Orange will shift its attention to its season-opener Friday night against Kennesaw State in the Carrier Dome.
“We’ve got a few days off to practice and get ready for the opener,” Boeheim said. “We’ll see if we’re ready.”
Jim Boeheim Post-Game: