SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Scoreboards and box scores have long been known not to tell the whole story. Stat lines are great to evaluate, but analyzing the desired outcomes requires digging deeper into what is expected of each player on the floor.
For the 18,000 plus that made their way to the Carrier Dome on a damp and blistery day, a 67-46 win over longtime in-state opponent Cornell may not have seemed too impressive. These are the games in December, the soft non-conference competition that leads up to ACC play, that are supposed to be easy victories or even blow outs. But, it would be hard to say this afternoon that the Orange was every truly in control of the game until the latter portions of the second half.
Syracuse only lead by four points at the break (30-26), and the Big Red of Cornell seemed to find ways to penetrate the zone to get shots they wanted. It wasn’t at will, but a sense hung over a very quiet and sluggish crowd that if shots kept dropping it would not be an easy victory on any level for the Orange. Both teams shot below 40% in the first half, as well as 25% each from three-point distance; so there was also very little impression that this would be a high scoring affair, which it did not turn out to be.
That’s the moment when digging deeper in the game itself is what is required. Sometimes the overall team effort isn’t there as unit, but individual performances are the spark that is needed to get you over the hump. Today was that day for Tyler Roberson. Roberson shot 70% from the field (7-10), highlighted by a handful of put backs and tip slams. This outburst led to 15 points, tying teammate Malachi Richardson for the lead for all scorers in the game. However, the bigger picture was Roberson’s 12 rebounds, eight of which came on the offensive end.
“The coaching staff, and Coach Autry in particular challenged him (Roberson) to 15 rebounds,” said interim Head Coach Mike Hopkins. “It’s funny because when Tyler focuses on rebounding, he seems to score as well.”
The pride in Hopkins’ eyes is like that of a parent watching their child grow up. It is infectious in his post-game press conferences, and you can see that he believes in his team and they want to work hard for him. Coach is never short on emotion, always choking up a little when talking about the Orange past or present. It is clear he knows what this time means for him, what it will mean in the future, and most of all what it means to represent Syracuse basketball.
This pleasure that he takes in the maturation of the team has in many ways become the driving force that helps to motivate the Orange when they come out of the gates a little slow. Roberson’s play and improvement is the highlight of the game, but Malachi Richardson (8), DaJuan Coleman (7), Michael Gbinije (7) and Tyler Lydon (7) were all great contributors on the glass. It was the first game since the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament against Connecticut that Syracuse had out-rebounded an opponent. That was nearly a month ago. These are critical steps on the progress meter for a young team, one that is also growing with the veterans it has.
“When I focus on getting rebounds everything comes to me,” said junior Tyler Roberson. “It has been an up and down season thus far, but as we become more consistent on the glass as a team everything will start to come together.”
Although Michael Gbinije struggled early due to the double teams he faced coming off screen and roll plays, he still managed to get eight assists and found Roberson down low and Trevor Cooney on the wing when his own shots weren’t falling. Tyler’s, Lydon and Roberson, brought back memories of former Syracuse star Hakim Warrick with some statement blocks. Lydon totaled four in the game, sending a Cornell three-point attempt over the Orange bench and Roberson’s two blocks kept the paint acting like a no-fly zone for Big Red shots.
“Those are the plays we need,” said Hopkins. “Those are the plays that not many people in the country can make (referring to Roberson) … Those are body shots to the opposing team and he made those today.”
“Our defense just tightened down,” said Gbinije. “We’ve been basically doing 80% defense and 20% offense this week in practice. It was installed and drilled in us and hopefully we can keep this kind of mindset.”
Mindset is exactly the key. Although every game counts and wins will be at a premium for this version of the Orange, it can be difficult to get up for mid and low major opponents during the holiday break when your routine changes. The student section isn’t there as a catalyst, the opponents are virtual unknowns to the fan base and your weekly schedule is more laid back. That is again where interim Head Coach Mike Hopkins knows that the energy for the team, specifically game star Tyler Roberson, need to be up during this stretch.
“I think for Christmas we are going to have to ask for a plug in, a Tyler Roberson plug in,” said Hopkins. “If we can get some high voltage batteries, anything from Best Buy, we will get the team plugged in.”
Next up for the Orange: Home, Tuesday December 22nd 7:00 p.m. – Montana State Bobcats of the Big Sky Conference.
Side note: Great to see Pearl Washington appear with former Syracuse players on the court at halftime. He has been under some unfortunate health conditions in recent months.