Syracuse held a 10 to 13 point advantage throughout the majority of the game. The Orange slowly built a 23-7 lead with 7 minutes left in the first half, then proceeded to milk this advantage over the next 27 minutes. SU had a few opportunities to blow the game open, but some sloppy ballhandling, late game foul trouble, and poor defensive rebounding prevented the Orange from recording their 7th straight double digit win.
Holy Cross mounted a 16-10 run in the game's closing minutes, culminated by two Keith Simmons free throws to trim the SU lead to 67-62 with 0:42 seconds remaining. Demetris Nichols then threw the ball away on the ensuing inbounds. Nichols would redeem himself on the next play when he blocked a shot and then grabbed a much-needed defensive rebound off a missed three pointer. Nichols then hit 3 of 4 free throws down the stretch to seal the win.
Most of the Holy Cross rally came with Terrence Roberts and Demetris Nichols on the bench, saddled by foul trouble. Both players would return for the final 3 minutes to make key contributions. With 2:30 left in the game, the Crusaders had cut the lead to 7 on three free throws by Colin Cunningham. Holy Cross an opportunity to cut the lead down to 4 or 5, but Nichols intercepted a pass and streaked down court to hit a 10-foot jumper on the fastbreak. This turned out to be a pivotal play in the game and gave SU enough momentum to hold off Holy Cross.
One of the most important developments in this game was the return of Darryl Watkins. Midway through the first half, Mookie replaced Matt Gorman and gave the Orange a quick burst of energy. After missing the last few games with an injured nose, he came in wearing full battle gear and immediately grabbed three rebounds. One of the boards came on the offensive end and was turned into two points in the form of a lefty-tip in. Watkins went on to finish the first half with 5 points, 4 boards, and a steal in only 8 minutes of play.
After opening up a 30-12 lead, Syracuse got very sloppy late in the first half. Holy Cross started to find the seams in a stagnant 2-3 zone, hitting three jumpers. Alex VanderBaan's long three pointer highlighted SU's inability to get out on the shooters.
The late first half defensive collapse stood in stark contrast to how the Orange had played on the defensive end for the first 18 minutes. Boeheim's team employed primarily man to man over this stretch, forcing 14 turnovers and holding Holy Cross to about 25% shooting from the field. But things seemed to come apart once Boeheim switched into the zone.
On the offensive side, Syracuse again struggled to settle into a rhythm. The large first half lead was built through the long-range shooting of Demetris Nichols and Eric Devendorf, who combined to hit four triples. However, SU's reliance on the perimeter shot was underscored by the fact that 9 of their first 12 attempts came from beyond the arc.
The Crusaders helped out the struggling SU offense by committing 14 first half fouls, which the Orange turned into 13 points on 76% shooting from the line. In contrast, Holy Cross did not go to the line a single time in the first half. The 13-point free throw disparity essentially provided SU with its half-time cushion, when they went into the break with a 31-19 lead.
The foul situation would change dramatically in the second stanza, when the ‘Cuse began picking up fouls at a ridiculous rate. Syracuse was charged with 11 fouls in the first 8 minutes of the second half, the most costly of which was Nichols' 4th foul at the 14:39 mark. Nichols had come out of the locker-room firing, hitting a three pointer and downing 2 lay-ups to help maintain the SU lead at 13 points. The Crusaders simply had no answer for Nichols, but his 10 minutes on the bench allowed them to get back into the game.
Truth be told, the second half largely belonged to Holy Cross. The Crusaders scored 45 second half points by moving the ball with purpose against the SU defense. After committing 14 first half turnovers, they made only 4 second half miscues. The most important change for Holy Cross was their aggressiveness on the glass, where they pulled down 17 offensive boards.
SU's inability to control the defensive glass is becoming a recurring theme in the '06-07 season. Paul Harris, who is usually counted on for 8 to 10 boards a night, came up a bit short with only 5 rebounds. Darryl Watkins and Demetris Nichols led the Orange with 6 apiece, but the duo of Matt Gorman and Terrence Roberts were virtually none-existent (5 rebounds combined). In contrast, Alex Vander Baan's 11 boards led Holy Cross. SU even allowed 5-11 point guard Torey Thomas to snag 8 missed shots.
On the positive side, SU had 3 players in double digits while two others narrowly missed the feat (Eric Devendorf - 9 pts and Darryl Watkins - 7 points). Paul Harris was a beast driving to the basket and picking up fouls. He knocked down 10 of 12 freebies, which was a positive sign after he hit only 4 of 10 in Buffalo on Saturday. Do-it-all-Paul turned in yet another well-rounded stat line with 14 points, 5 rebounds, an assist, 2 blocks, and 3 steals.
Josh Wright also played a strong game, scoring 13 points while handing out 4 assists to only one turnover. Wright's most impressive play came on a backdoor alley-oop pass from Eric Devendorf. This play could be seen on ESPN as the #3 play of the night. Wright also continued to show good form at the line, where he hit 7 of 8 attempts.
This game provided the toughest test of the season so far. Holy Cross was well coached and fundamentally sound, and in many ways reflect SU's next opponent, the Wichita State Shockers. The main difference is that the Shockers are more athletic and more skilled at nearly every position. Boeheim's squad will have a lot to work on this week in practice. Let's hope they tackle defensive rebounding, because they cannot afford to get beaten on the boards yet again.