Part of the reason for SU's first half offensive struggles was Eric Devendorf's foolish defensive play. He picked up his third foul at the 13:30 mark and landed on the bench for the rest of the half. The SU offense immediately floundered after that, failing to score for several minutes.
After a layup by EJ Drayton pulled Charlotte ahead 17-11, Boeheim started shuttling players in and out. Harris and Rautins got the early call, but were then replaced by Mike Jones and Terrence Roberts. Neither combination helped to jump-start the SU offense and it looked like the Dome faithful were in for a close, down-the-wire type of game.
Then Boeheim pulled Mike Jones and plugged Harris back into the lineup. This time the move worked, as Harris grabbed a steal and went coast to coast for a layup. The defensive intensity picked up considerably and Harris scored another basket to bring the gap down to 4.
It was at this point where Demetris Nichols took over the game. Nichols knocked down a pair of threes, hit two free throws, and grabbed back-to-back defensive rebounds. Andy Rautins and Paul Harris teamed with Nichols to provide a potent defensive trio, and SU pulled ahead 29-27 when Paul Harris found Josh Wright streaking to the basket for a fastbreak bucket. Charlotte regained the lead on an Alexander 3 pointer, but Paul Harris knocked down a pair of free throws to give SU a 31-30 lead going into the break.
Boeheim obviously liked what he saw from Harris in the first half, and had him start in the second half in place of Matt Gorman (who was originally starting in place of the injured Darryl Watkins). Harris rewarded Boeheim's confidence with a stellar 17 point, 9 rebound, 4 assist, 1 steal, and 1 block performance. Number 11 was in true "do-it-all" mode on Wednesday, dominating the game in multiple facets.
Once the SU offense started to click, the Orange had no problems scoring on the 49ers. After putting up 11 points in first 10 minutes, they scored at a breakneck pace for the game's final 30 minutes. Demetris Nichols' hot shooting extended into the 2nd half, when he saved back-to-back possessions by hitting long fadeaway triples near the end of the shot clock. In total, Nichols canned all three of his long-range attempts in the second half.
The team seemed to find its groove playing with a small lineup. Junior PG Josh Wright turned in his best game as an Orange(man), scoring 14 points while dishing out 8 assists. He looked much more comfortable guiding the SU offense, and did a great job of knocking down his free throws down the stretch.
While SU got expected perimeter scoring from Nichols and eventually Devendorf (12 pts), one of the real keys to the game was the added three point shooting of Wright, Rautins, and Gorman. The trio combined to hit 4 of 10 threes and the Orange finished the night at 50% as a team (11-22). Charlotte countered with 11 threes of their own, but it took them 15 more shots to make that many.
The SU defense was far more active in the second half when Boeheim used the small lineup. After the break, the Orange held the 49ers to 6-20 from beyond the arc. Leemire Goldwire did most of the damage, but Demetris Nichols and Paul Harris teamed to shut down Alexander, who was limited to 1-8 shooting after a strong first half.
Charlotte's attempt at a last-ditch comeback fell short due to some superb free throw shooting from Josh Wright and Paul Harris, who combined to hit 15 of 16 freebies down the stretch. Syracuse finished the night at 24-28 from the line to improve to nearly 70% for the season. If the Orange can continue to shoot free throws at a 70% clip, they should be in good shape for the remainder of the season (of course, Wednesday's shooting was somewhat skewed by the fact that Roberts only shot 2 free throws).
Syracuse once again showed excellent balance with 4 players landing in double digits. The biggest concern at this point in the season is that the Orange continue to give up a lot of offensive rebounds. But, with the other elements of the defense and offense coming together, it will give Boeheim something to focus on for the next week until the more difficult games come. Syracuse travels to Buffalo on Saturday to play Canisius, but a trio of pretty tough games looms thereafter (Holy Cross, Wichita State, Oklahoma State). Will the Orange be ready? Stay tuned.