Tyler Roberson needed to be better for Syracuse to take the next step as a team this season. That was the sentiment from head coach Jim Boeheim just two games into the 2015-16 campaign. His next time out, against Elon, he put together a monster 20 point, 16 rebound performance.
Against Connecticut on Thursday, he put together one of his strongest all around outings, helping the Orange beat their historical rivals. That included some critical plays down the stretch.
The first came with a little over three minutes remaining with Syracuse up just four, UConn had some excellent ball movement that gave Shonn Miller a seemingly wide open layup inside. But Roberson rotated over from the weak side and blocked the shot from behind. Syracuse scored the next three points to push the lead to seven.
"I thought he was really good," Boeheim said after the game. "He did a lot of things today defensively. That block he made on Miller, when it was four or two or something, four I think, that was a huge block. I didn't even see him coming. I don't know how he got there. That was a huge play."
With the Orange clinging to a three point lead with seconds remaining, Trevor Cooney launched a long three pointer with the shot clock winding down. It clanged off of the back of the rim and bounced high into the air. Roberson leaped over two UConn players and snatched the ball with two hands with only five seconds left.
He passed the ball to Gbinije in the corner who threw it across court to Richardson as the clock struck zero. Victory for the Orange. A step forward for Roberson.
Tyler has been inconsistent this season, but he has stepped up in two of the last three games. He is Syracuse's best rebounder, but has to contribute something inside offensively to keep teams honest about the Orange's interior game. Not only that, he has become a solid presence defensively.
Roberson was very active on both ends, drew fouls, passed the ball well and hit the glass hard. When he is aggressive, he can be tough for opponent's to deal with given Syracuse's ability to space the floor with their strong perimeter players. He did that on Friday, converting inside and in transition a number of times.
With 14 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks, 3 assists and a steal, Roberson was a key component in their win Thursday. He will need a similar performance on Friday against Texas A&M if Syracuse is to capture the Battle 4 Atlantis title.