For the first 24 minutes, it looked like SU was about to pay back the Blue Demons in kind. Syracuse had stormed out to an early first half lead and extended it to 20 points when Eric Devendorf hit a jumper to make the score 52-32. With the momentum firmly behind them, it seemed that the SU players would be able to ride the game out and finally gain a much-needed confidence boost.
But this is the 2006-07 Orange(men), a team that can transform even the easiest victories into nail-bitingly frustrating experiences. DePaul gradually and methodically got back into the game by crashing the offensive glass and aggressively attacking the basket. When Draelon Burns hit a pair of free throws at the 1:50 mark, all but three points of SU's huge lead had evaporated.
Fortunately for SU fans, Eric Devendorf parted the Blue Demons defense and made a driving left-handed lay-up to regain the momentum for Syracuse and give his squad a 70-65 lead with a little over a minute left. This basket proved to be the most important score of the game, and SU was able to pull out a victory behind 5-6 free throw shooting down the stretch. Devendorf made all four of his attempts in the closing minute.
Devendorf made all four of his free throw attempts in the closing minute.
Devendorf finished the game with 27 points and 4 assists. His last two games have provided viewers with a complete "Jekyl and Hyde" experience. Coming off a dreadful zero point, 0-11 shooting performance against Notre Dame, Devo came out fired up on Saturday afternoon. He hit 2 three-pointers in first three minutes to give SU an 8-2 lead. He would then add 3 more first half triples and go into the break with 17 of SU's 44 points.
The other big story in the first half was Andy Rautins. He and Devendorf combined to knock down 7 trifectas before halftime and eventually finished the game 10-18 from deep on the evening. Rautins scored a career high 18 points and looked very comfortable and confident shooting the ball from distance. The grand irony in this game was that Rautins relinquished his starting slot to Devendorf, yet both were able to turn in excellent performances.
Andy Rautins had the deep shot working.
Surprisingly, SU was able to survive an off night from Demetris Nichols, their leading scorer. Nichols finished with only 8 points on 3-10 shooting, but did hit a huge three pointer at the 6:22 mark to staunch a 7-0 DePaul run. This shot gave Syracuse the breathing room it needed until Devendorf's game-saving drive. It was the first game that Nichols failed to reach double figures since the loss to Wichita State in December.
Syracuse also failed to get big production from their interior duo of Terrence Roberts and Darryl Watkins. The two combined for 13 points and 14 rebounds, but they did not acquit themselves well on the boards, allowing DePaul to attack the glass and snatch multiple offensive rebounds.
Wilson Chandler posted a double-double with 11 points and 13 rebounds, and 6-4 guard Draelon Burns grabbed 4 offensive boards as well. Burns was the driving force behind the DePaul comeback, as he scored 26 points on 9-15 shooting, including 4-6 from beyond the arc.
Draelon Burns was outstanding in defeat.
One of the very nice things to see from SU was the return of team play. Of the team's 25 field goals, 18 came on assists. With the exception of Matt Gorman, every Orange(man) recorded at least one helper.
Many of them came in memorable fashion: Darryl Watkins threw a crisp bounce pass around a double team and Roberts converted it into dunk. Wright found Rautins on three curl moves for open triples. Harris hit Rautins with a slick shovel pass for another open look, and then topped that off with a pinpoint laser-beam no-look pass to Watkins for a dunk. For the first time in over a month, Syracuse looked like a team working together on the offensive end.
Syracuse also won the battle of the turnovers for the first time in their last 7 games, forcing 17 while committing only 10 themselves. Prior to this game, the Orange had committed at least 15 in each of their last 6 contests (OUCH). DePaul's inability to pressure the SU ballhandlers and get out on the perimeter shooters was their undoing.
Despite the low number of turnovers, point guard Josh Wright had his share of blunders. The worst came with SU nursing an eight point lead with a little over 4 minutes left. Wright attempted another 1-on-3 fastbreak and streaked in for a lay-up, but had his shot blocked. He recovered the ball, but rather than kick it out to eat up another 25+ seconds, he immediately attacked the basket and was once again packaged.
This sequence of plays from Wright illustrates his primary failing as a point guard: a total and complete inability to make basic reads on what the situation of the game dictates. In this instance, Sammy Meija grabbed the rebound off Wright's second miss, and DePaul scored the next 5 points of the game to cut the SU lead to 3 at 68-65. Boeheim immediately removed Wright, and he did not return until after Devendorf's late lay-up gave SU a more manageable lead.
All things considered, the decrease in team turnovers was a very pleasant sight. If Syracuse can continue to improve in this department and begin to limit the opposition's effectiveness on the offensive glass, they may yet be able to finish Big East play with 10 or more wins. SU was outrebounded 45-32 and gave up 20 offensive rebounds out of the zone. Better teams will be continue to exploit this weakness, so it is incumbent on the interior players to take ownership of the defensive glass.
Syracuse's next game is on the road against a struggling UConn team. The Orange got payback today for last year's drubbing in Chicago, now they will look to pay the Huskies back for all their recent losses in Connecticut. Sometimes, payback is all you need to get a little bit of momentum back on your side.