It’s getting to the point where Syracuse Orange fans should expect huge performances out of senior center Rakeem Christmas like the one he put on Friday night against the upset-minded Holy Cross Crusaders.
Finishing with a career-high 25 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks, the 6-foot-9 center dominated at both ends of the floor in the Orange’s 72-48 win.
Right from the opening tip it was clear who would be the focal point of the offense against the Crusaders, whose tallest player is 6’8 center Taylor Abt. With the height advantage, Christmas and fellow big man Chris McCullough – who finished with 14 points, 13 rebounds and 2 blocks, went to work early and often to lead the Orange to a comfortable victory.
Growing accustomed to being the focal point of the offense, Christmas displayed the improved soft touch around the rim to go with skilled post moves on his way to the career-high in points, will McCullough continued to showcase the midrange game that has scouts drooling over the 6’10” freshman.
On the night, Christmas threw down at least four dunks that were uncontested, which is impressive considering Holy Cross double-teamed Christmas nearly every time he touched the ball.
With the senior center drawing double-teams, McCullough was able to work off of Christmas by knocking down open jumpers, grabbing second-chance boards and even cutting through the lane unguarded to throw down a big dunk on an assist from Christmas that ignited the large crowd at the Carrier Dome.
“Rak and Chris were good inside,” Jim Boeheim said. “But, I didn’t think we did a good job getting the ball to them enough.”
Against the Crusaders, Christmas and McCullough attempted 21 shot attempts from the floor to go along with 11 free throw attempts.
Despite the open looks, the Orange continued to struggle mightily from beyond the arc finishing 0-for-14 from the arc. Through six games the Orange is tied for fifth-worst nationally in 3-point shooting, just ahead of opponents such as Boston College and Fresno State.
“It [perimeter shooting] is what it is,” Boeheim said. “We’re just going to keep playing. It doesn’t matter if I’m concerned or not; that’s not going to change anything. We’ve just got to keep playing. If we’re not shooting well then we’ve got to get to the basket.”
That’s where Christmas and McCullough stepped up. With the Orange struggling to dial in from beyond the arc, the two dominated on the glass as well as on the stat sheet.
On the day ESPN’s Chad Ford pegged McCullough as a potential top-10 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, the 6-foot-10 forward played like one for a key stretch in the Syracuse Orange’s 72-48 win over upset-minded Holy Cross, Friday, in the Carrier Dome.
Struggling to get going on the offensive end early in the first half, McCullough seemingly flipped the switch just as easily as his smooth 10-foot jumper found the bottom of the net. The midrange game, which has become a big part of his game this season, created more space for Christmas to operate.
“The midrange is a big part of my game that got better over the summer,” McCullough said. “But, I don’t really pay attention to any of that stuff [NBA Draft] right now. Someone texted me about it, but it is what it is.”
While the two big men caught everyone’s attention, freshman point guard Kaleb Joseph quietly put together is best overall game of basketball in his short time at Syracuse. Finishing with 14 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists, the frosh showed poise when facing Holy Cross’ full-court press.
With the near triple-double, Joseph said it’s something to build off of, but nothing he’s going to dwell on.
“It’s just about playing my game and being confident,” Joseph said. “I just have to be aggressive and try and make good plays for my team. I try and help out any way I can tonight. I feel like I did.”
While the win over the Crusaders is something to build off of, a large matchup against the Michigan Wolverines looms just around the corner on Dec. 2.
“Michigan’s a great team,” Boeheim said. “They’ll be a great challenge.”
Joseph, who’s become a bit of a team leader, said that as long as the Orange plays their hardest and prepares as best as they can then they’ll live with the results no matter what happens.
Jim Boeheim Post-Game: