NEW YORK, N.Y. -- The last time Cal and Syracuse faced-off the Orange were triumphant in a 92-81 win en route to the Maui Invitational title last season in sunny, warm Hawaii.
Tonight the Orange were back home, sort of, in freezing New York City at Madison Square Garden as they lost 73-59 to Cal showing no sign of years past when Syracuse owned this building as members of the Big East Conference.
The Bears (3-0) broke down the SU zone time and time again shooting 8-19 from three-point range led by sophomore Jordan Mathews who put in 22 points for Cal on 6-12 shooting.
Syracuse (2-1) was anemic offensively scoring just 20 points in the first half and struggled again from three shooting 4-17 from beyond the arc on the night. Sharpshooter Trevor Cooney who was 2-7 from three in the loss to Hampton shot 2-6 from long range tonight against the Bears.
Star freshman Chris McCullough looked promising at times especially early in the first half when he scored the team’s first six points and had nine points through the first five minutes. He got banged around in the post after that finishing the game with only 12 points on 5-9 shooting.
“I think Chris [McCullough] is another guy that can score, but physically he gets pushed around a little bit and that’s to be expected,” Coach Jim Boeheim said.
The Orange’s other heralded freshman Kaleb Joseph showed flashes of potential, but that was late in the game when the contest was already out of reach. He finished the game with four turnovers and a plethora of mental mistakes.
“I think as bad as some of Kaleb’s decisions were tonight, he still has the ability to score,” Boeheim said. “This is a fairly new freshman point guard coming into the Garden for the first time.”
The game was really over for Syracuse at halftime. Rakeem Christmas who is so vital to the team’s success this season was 3-10 from field on the night for the Orange and only played 23 minutes due to foul trouble. He was 10-14 from the field in SU’s first two games.
“We are trying to develop Rakeem inside to score,” Boeheim said. “It’s not something that’s going to happen in the first few games; it’s going to take time.”
Cal’s backcourt won the game for the Bears. Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews combined for 38pts on 11-21 from the field including 7-10 from long range.
“At first we were a little stagnant[against the SU zone],” Jordan Mathews said. “They were long out there and made sure we couldn’t get quick shots up. At first it’s a little tough, but once we hit a few jump shots our confidence increased and we started making plays on both ends of the court.”
The lone bright spot for the Orange may have been Michael Gbinije who had 13 points for SU in 30 minutes off the bench. B.J. Johnson and Ron Patterson combined for only 23 minutes and zero points.
Already lacking size and depth in the paint, SU struggled getting the ball in the basket from inside the paint. Christmas only played 23 minutes and McCullough wasn’t really a factor after his nine points early in the game.
“We have to be better inside and when we get in there we need to get something out of it,” Boeheim said. “We didn’t get that tonight.”
With the loss the Orange will be right back in action later today as they play Iowa from the Garden. The Hawkeyes lost 71-57 earlier in the evening to Texas. Gametime is set for 5p.m.