The scary thing was that if you take out the two-minute scoring spurt, the Terriers played the Orange to a 17-17 first half tie. The SU offense settled for too many perimeter shots and never seemed to get in the flow during the first half, shooting just 32% from the field.
The second half was a different story, as the Orange came out of the locker-room blazing. A 14-2 run, once again catalyzed by Demetris Nichols, effectively put the game out of reach for the Terriers. The 'Cuse offense changed gears and focused on driving to the basket to open up scoring opportunities. Eric Devendorf was the primary beneficiary; scoring 12 second half points after being held to a single point in the first half.
One of the big stories in Friday night's victory was the play of Josh Wright, who turned in a career performance, finishing one assist shy of a double-double. Wright scored 11 points on the evening and handed out 9 assists, many of them coming in transition situations. He showed much better patience and spacing in the offense, and for the first time this season, he looked like a true lead guard.
While Wright missed a double-double by the slimmest of margins, teammate Paul Harris managed the feat in his first official collegiate game. The Beast bullied his way to 10 points and was an absolute terror on the defensive board, snatching 11 miscued shots. Harris showed an ability to slash from the wing, something that he hadn't shown during the exhibitions.
Harris's impressive stat line came in just 22 minutes on the court, but his game was not without flaw. His physical nature resulted in a near disqualification (4 PF), he turned the ball over 4 times, and he managed to miss all three of his trifecta attempts. Including the exhibitions, he is now 0-8 from three. But, this is a not a "GMac" 0-8, where you feel in your gut that the next shot's gonna go in. For the most part, this is a clankity-clank 0-8 where his shots haven't even been close.
The SU frontcourt duo of Terrence Roberts and Darryl Watkins combined for 18 points, 18 rebounds, and 6 blocked shots. Watkins turned in a "4 by 5" with a pretty stat line of 11 points, 5 rebs, 5 bs, and 5 st.
The bench, which had been very good in the previous exhibition, showed a little bit of first game jitters. Freshman Showtime Mike Jones scored 7 points in 18 minutes, but didn't seem as poised as he was against CSULA. Matt Gorman and Andy Rautins combined for 7 points, but managed to hit only 1 of 7 threes in total. The poor three point shooting was a team-wide trend, as SU hit only 20.8% (5-24) from beyond the arc.
With the win, Syracuse will now play the University of Pennsylvania Quakers in the second game of the BCA Invitational. The Quakers lost a close 69-66 game to the UTEP Miners, despite a huge 23 point, 12 rebound performance from Mark Zoller. The 6-7 forward from Blue Bell, PA led the Ivy League in rebounding last year with 9 per game in conference play. He is a very smart and patient player, the kind that has given SU problems in the past.
The rest of the Quaker starting lineup includes 6-8 SR forward Steve Danley, 6-7 SO Travis McMahon, 6-2 G Ibrahim Jaaber, and 6-4 JR Brian Grandieri. As you can see, this team has very good size for an Ivy League team. Jaaber was a unanimous choice for preseason Ivy League player of the year, after averaging more than 18 ppg last year. He is a terrific defensive player, as evidence by the nearly 3 and half steals he recorded per game last year.
As a team, the Quakers are expected to win the Ivy League again this year. They return almost everyone from last season's 20-9 team that lost to Texas in the first round of the NCAA tourney by only 8 points.
As with most Ivy League teams, UPenn is unlikely to try to play an uptempo game against SU. They favor a slowdown offense that emphasizes wearing down the opponents' defense. The Quakers aren't a particularly accurate team from three point range, but Jaaber needs to be closely watched after hitting 56 threes last year (39%).
The main challenge in this game is for the SU defense to remain focused for 25 to 30 seconds per possession. Boeheim has used almost exclusively man-to-man this season, but the Penn offense calls for a lot of backdoor cuts and high screens, and the SU defense might not be up to that challenge yet. Don't be surprised to see Boeheim dust off he zone tonight.
Defensively, the Quakers are pretty good at causing turnovers. They are not going to employ a "40 minutes of hell" type of gameplan, but they have very astute players who know how to play ball denial defense and get into the passing lanes. They were +4.6 in turnover margin on the season last year, and considering how sloppy SU has been with the ball this year, that is a major concern.
The place were Syracuse should have an advantage is on the offensive glass. Penn is not a very good rebounding team other than Zoller. They were beaten on the glass 34-25 last night against UTEP, with Zoller grabbing half the team's boards. If Terrence Roberts can continue his domination of the glass, this will be a great sign for Syracuse tonight.
Look for Penn to play a smart, focused game and stay within striking distance. Syracuse will have to hit their free throws down the stretch, but the bigger and more athletic Orange should be able to hold off the Quakers. In the end, SU wins a hard-fought game 63-60.