Syracuse had many key contributors in their run to the Battle 4 Atlantis championship. Tyler Lydon introduced himself to the national college basketball landscape. Malachi Richardson made huge shots down the stretch of games. Tyler Roberson was strong on the boards and critical to their win over UConn. Trevor Cooney shot well from the outside and drove to the basket with success.
But Syracuse's best player was Michael Gbinije, who took home the tournament MVP award. It was a deserving honor for the man who ran the show as the Orange's point guard, is given the ball at the most critical junctiors and makes big plays throughout the game.
Sometimes those plays don't show up in the box score. Such as a deflection that leads to a steal or tipping a ball into the backcourt for an offensive round.
Many do show up on the stat sheet with deep threes, numerous assists and steals on the defensive end.
Gbinije averaged 21 points, 5 assists, 2.7 steals and 2.3 rebounds while shooting 58.8% from the floor and 60% from three-point range. It was a stellar performance and one fitting of the most valuable player distinction.
Whenever Syracuse needed a big shot, Gbinije was there to hit. He was efficient, patient, scored in transition, off the bounce and as a spot-up shooter. This despite going against stellar defensive teams with a lot of size and length in the backcourt in Connecticut and Texas A&M.
Maybe none more spectacular than at the end of the first half against the Aggies. With Syracuse trailing by seven, Gbinije drilled an NBA range three-pointer to cut the lead to four. When A&M tried to inbound the ball, it got away from the intended target, and Gbinije stole it. With the clock winding down in the first half, he immediately started to try to throw up a half court shot.
Though the shot was off, he was fouled and hit two of three free-throws. That makes a five point swing in less than six seconds. That gave Syracuse the momentum heading into the locker room.
Syracuse has the luxury of having two senior guards. Two leaders who have gone through the riggers of conference play, preseason and postseason tournaments and big games. Gbinije and Cooney both played well during the three days in the Bahamas. Gbinije's performance landed him the MVP award while Cooney made the all-tournament team.