Syracuse freshman forward Chris McCullough has flashed in their first three games. He has been efficient scoring the basketball, crashed the boards and played strong defense. But in Friday night's win over the Iowa Hawkeyes, McCullough turned in his best performance of his young career.
McCullough made seven of his 12 shot attempts, pouring in 20-points for an Orange squad that has struggled offensively this season. He also had a big impact on the defensive end of the floor, snagging 10 rebounds, blocking three shots and adding a steal for good measure.
"I thought Chris was good today," head coach Jim Boeheim said. "He was aggressive. He gets a little tired, but he was aggressive and made some really good plays. I thought at both ends of the floor, he was good."
Not only did McCullough fill up the stat sheet, but he made plays at critical times as well. After Iowa cut a 15-point Syracuse lead down to just one, McCullough found an opening inside and slammed the ball threw the net to extend the lead to three.
With Syracuse clinging to a one point lead with just seconds remaining, Iowa was looking to score and shock the Orange. Hawkeye center Adam Woodbury saw a cutting Aaron White and threw him a pass in the lane. With no one protecting the rim, he was poised to catch the pass and lay it in for the game winning bucket.
McCullough, however, had other plans. He rotated over and jumped into the passing lane, stealing the ball away and with it, the game. White fouled McCullough, who promptly swished two free-throws that all-but sealed the game.
"Chris made a great steal, came across in our trap," Boeheim said. "He just made a great play. That was the game. If he doesn't come across and get that one, we don't win. It was a great play."
His talent is unquestioned. Offensively, he may be the most dynamic scorer on the Orange roster. He can shoot from the outside, score out of the low-post, moves well without the ball and put the ball on the floor. There is nothing he cannot do on that end of the floor.
Defensively, McCullough is already making an impact with his length and athleticism. He is averaging three blocks and two steals through four games. As he gets more comfortable with the zone defense and his rotations, his impact will only grow. Added weight and increased stamina will make him a force that could give Syracuse a go-to threat in postseason play.