SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Coming into tonight's game against Lehigh, Syracuse fans expected a blowout. Although the Orange were on the verge of just that, a sloppy second-half let the Mountain Hawks get back into it.
Syracuse came out hot, largly due to Malachi Richardson hitting two early 3-pointers to give SU an 8-2 lead. Richardson finished with 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting, including 2-of-5 from 3-point range.
"Once again, I thought I had a decent shooting performance," Richardson said after the game.
Although Malachi played well, tonight's game was about defense. Jim Boeheim's suffocating 2-3 zone was dominant in the first half, forcing Lehigh to shoot 2-of-23 from the field, and 1-of-10 from deep.
"We did play good defense in the first half, but they just weren't in sync. They weren't doing things they were capable of," Boeheim said. "It wasn't like they were missing shots, they just weren't getting those shots."
Tyler Lydon provided a spark off the bench for the Orange, especially once DaJuan Coleman found himself in foul trouble. Coleman, after picking up two quick fouls early in the first half, sat the last 15 minutes. As soon as Lydon entered the game, he forced a steal, blocked a shot and got the crowd more into it. He finished with 4 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals in 15 minutes of action in the first half.
With Coleman's early foul trouble, we learned tonight that Lydon will, likely, be his backup this season. Redshirt junior Chinonso Obokoh was the third-string center tonight.
"I just want to help the team win," Lydon said. "I don't care what position I play, I'm just going to work as hard as I can to contribute for the team."
However, Obokoh did see a decent amount of playing time tonight and he took advantage of it. In the first half, Chino grabbed two rebounds and blocked two shots in seven minutes of action, which is an impressive showing considering his last two performances. He finished with four rebounds, four blocks and one steal in 15 minutes.
Like Lydon, Kaleb Joseph provided a spark off the bench, as well. His buzzer beating 3-pointer to end the first-half gave the Orange a 20-point lead, which seemed like more than enough at the time.
Tim Kempton, Lehigh's best player and Patriot League Preseason Player of the Year, was held to just four points and four rebounds in the first half. He also had four turnovers.
The second-half, however, was a different story.
Lehigh came out on an 18-4 run, cutting SU's lead to 36-30 with 12:35 to go in the game. Sophomore Kaleb Joseph came off the bench and hit a 3-pointer to extend the Orange's lead to 9, with just over 12 minutes to go. After that, Syracuse got back into a rhythm. Trevor Cooney added a bucket from deep, Joseph hit 2 free throw's and the lead was safe again.
Despite making a few plays in the second-half, Cooney struggled tonight. He finished 4-of-13 from the field, including 3-of-9 from 3-point range. The 6-foot-4 guard played 38 minutes, which may seem like a lot, especially with the guard depth Syracuse has. His backcourt-mate, Michael Gbinije, led the Orange with 16 points on 5-of-13 shooting. Like Cooney, Gbinije struggled from 3, shooting just 2-of-9.
The main reason why Syracuse struggled so much tonight? Turnovers. The Orange finished the game with 17 turnovers, to Lehigh's 15. In the first half, SU had 9 turnovers but got away with them due to stellar defense. The second half, not so much.
Tyler Roberson was MIA in the first-half, going 0-for-3 in 10 minutes. Roberson didn't attempt a shot in the second half, finishing the game 0-of-3 with 5 rebounds in 21 minutes of action. When asked after the game about his performance, Boeheim responded, "I didn't see much there tonight."
Dajuan Coleman got into foul trouble early which limited him to a disappointing 13 minutes. He finished with 2 points, 2 rebounds and 4 fouls. The concerning number in his stat line was 13. The Orange need Dajuan to play, at least, 20 minutes per game. Thirteen is inexcusable, especially when two of his four fouls came on the offensive end.
SU outrebounded Lehigh tonight, 40-38.
Franklin Howard played four minutes at the end of the first half, finishing with one rebound and one assist in his college debut.
Syracuse improved to 1-0 on the year. Their next game is Tuesday against St. Bonaventure at the Carrier Dome.