SYRACUSE, N.Y. – A win that comes easily is something that the Orange (9-3) desperately needed. After recent losses to perennially successful programs in three of their last six games, and a sluggish start against Cornell, putting Montana State in their place by a score of 82-60 was exactly the holiday gift this group had on their list.
The stocking stuffers tonight came from some unlikely tall elves, as DaJuan Coleman and Chinonso Obokoh provided the early presents under the tree. Coleman, who only played 12 minutes, was five for five from the field with 13 points and four rebounds. It may not seem like a heavy stat line, but in the minutes he played and the activity he provided in the zone, it gave the Orange the early jolt needed to jump out to a 31-17 halftime lead. Coleman even scored the first basket in each half, much to the delight of the Dome crowd.
“Every time I get in there I just try to make something happen,” Coleman said. “I just wanted to get a good bucket or a key rebound that my team could feed off of.”
DaJuan Coleman for many local Syracuse fans may not have lived up to the hype of what was expected coming out of nearby Jamesville-DeWitt high school. The sectional titles, state championships and person accolades all added to quite a hefty resume coming in. But, this team seems to love DaJuan and gravitate towards him as he leads the pre-game huddles. These infectious relationships with his teammates may have been what spurred on little used Chinonso Obokoh tonight.
Obokoh had a career high 11 points, and was five for seven from the field leading to many “and one” three point play opportunities. Although he was not able to convert many, going one of five from the free throw line, his six rebounds also provided a spark later in the game when the ‘Cuse was working on getting additional players minutes. These are moments that can really bring a team together, when they pull for one another and are excited when teammates who play sparingly get opportunities.
“I always play with the focus to get better, and I try not worry about playing time,” said Obokoh. “I try to play in some ways like Baye (Moussa Keita) did when he was here, because he was everywhere on the floor.”
The Orange again did not come out like wild fire against a far inferior opponent, but prodded along in their current style. They only shot 35.5% FG in the first half, managed only 28% (7-25) from the 3 point line and a ghastly 45.8% in free-throws for the game. In many ways they play the style of the NBA team, sort of picking their spots and trying to get everyone involved in the flow. The second half really provided that flow tonight, as the ‘Cuse got the ball inside and looked for the open man.
Michael Gbinije, Trevor Cooney and Frank Howard each had five assists, and Tyler Lydon really focused on the high-low game looking to get Obokoh and Coleman shots when they played in the same unit. Lydon matched is 10 point scoring average, but aside from one three pointer seemed to make a concerted effort to score with his array of jump hooks. He also amassed four blocks and nine rebounds making his presence felt around the basket.
“I was going with the feel of the game, he (Obokoh) was just setting some good hard screens which got him and some of the other guys open,” Lydon said. “I just try to get guys who are open, the ball.”
“I try to read what the guys are doing, it is kind of a knack of mine to block shots,” said Lydon. “Just anticipate their next move and play as hard as I can.”
These are the various aspects of the game that the Orange want to improve upon with ACC play just a few weeks away. Having Coleman, Obokoh and Howard provide solid minutes off the bench allows Syracuse to establish some depth that is much needed. Despite quieter scoring nights for Malachi Richardson and Tyler Roberson, each was able to add five and eight rebounds respectively. Richardson even had three blocks and his boards added to a total of 16 from the guard position along with the likes of Gbinije, Howard and Kaleb Joseph.
“In the first half we played unbelievably defensively, and in the second half we played unbelievably offensively,” said interim head coach Mike Hopkins. “When you see 22 assists, that is really unselfish play and I am very happy about that.”
Next up for the Orange: Home (Carrier Dome), Sunday December 27th at 2:00 p.m. – Texas Southern Tigers (1-9) of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC). Game will be broadcast on ESPNU.