Top Performer: There were several players who made big time plays in Syracuse's win over Wake Forest on Tuesday night. But the player who stood out was true freshman Taurean Thompson. Thompson scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half, finished with two blocks and made strong defensive plays against John Collins. Collins torched the Orange in the first half, but Thompson bodied him, denied post entry and pushed him away from the basket to make life very difficult for the Demon Deacons' star. Thompson grew up in this one, appearing to be willing to take on the challenge of an opposing star big. Not only was he more physical than he had been all season, but he had his best defensive game of the year as well. Combine that with an efficient offensive performance (18 points on 10 shots in just 21 minutes) and Thompson was the player of the game for Syracuse.
Bottom Feeder: This is a tough one as no one that played for Syracuse had a poor performance. But Franklin Howard did struggle a bit on both ends of the floor at times. He only played 11 minutes, but played under control and did not force the action. Howard finished with two assists and four rebounds.
Stat of the Game: Second chance points. Wake Forest had the overall edge 21-17, but that does not tell the whole story. At the under 12 timeout in the second half, Syracuse trailed 49-44. They were also losing the second chance points battle 19-6. Over the final 12 minutes of the game, Syracuse outscored Wake Forest 11-2 in second chance points. Offensive boards and second chance opportunities fueled the Orange's rally.
Turning Point: This was a back and forth game throughout, with neither team leading by more than eight points. But in the final minute, Syracuse was clinging to a one point lead. With the shot clock winding down, John Gillon dished to Tyler Lydon for an open three-pointer. His show swishes to put Syracuse up 74-70 with 28 seconds remaining. Wake was unable to catch up from there as the Orange held off the Demon Deacons for the win.
He Said It: "It wasn’t just me, it was a collective effort. In the second half, it wasn’t just me, it was Tyler (Lydon) and Andrew (White) hitting threes, John Gillon getting steals and more. It was a collective group effort and I’m happy we got the win.” - Freshman forward Taurean Thompson.
- Did Taurean Thompson turn a corner in the second half? His effort defensively was the best all season. He bodied John Collins, denied post entry, deflected passes and blocked shots. The offensive part of his game has always been there, but he gave up too much on the defensive end of the floor to keep him out there against better teams. If he continues to make defensive strides, he could be a big weapon for the Orange in the final 11 games.
- Syracuse still needs better point guard play. John Gillon made some quality plays late in the game, including hitting an open three and making some beautiful passes in the lane. But those moments were far too infrequent. Gillon and Howard must give Syracuse a better scoring punch and more consistency defensively. That is still an issue going forward.
- Wake Forest is a very good offensive team with a plethora of quality shooters. Syracuse played really strong defense for most of the game. If not for a lot of put-backs and second chance opportunities, the defensive statistics would have looked even better. Syracuse forced 12 turnovers and blocked five shots. The Orange were clearly dedicated to that end of the floor, and it helped their win. They may not ever be a great defensive team, but they can at least be solid. Mixing in the press at unexpected times was a nice twist by Jim Boeheim as well.
- Tyus Battle showed he can contribute even when his offensive game is not clicking. For really the first time all season, he missed open shots that he normally makes. Despite that, he dished out four assists, grabbed four rebounds and put together a strong defensive outing.
- We finally saw how this team reacts in a close game in conference play. It had been a while since the game was in doubt down the stretch, and the Orange responded quite well. They hit shots, made defensive stops, forced turnovers and were able to do what was necessary to pull out a in at a critical time in their season. While it was encouraging, tougher tests are on the horizon.