Rhode Rage

The Syracuse University men's basketball team followed up Wednesday night's impressive road win over the Virginia Cavaliers by losing at home to the Rhode Island Rams on Saturday, 91-89. 21,197 fans were in attendance to witness what has become an all too familiar trend for the Orange this season: every step forward the team takes is offset by an unnecessary step backwards.

Prior to facing Syracuse, 9-1 Rhode Island had previously beaten Big East conference members Providence and South Florida earlier this year, and the potent offensive attack that the Rams used to dispatch these opponents was on display in yesterday's game from the opening tap. Although Syracuse opened the game by connecting on the team's first 5 field goal attempts, the Rams countered by nailing their first 6 trifectas of the game, giving Rhode Island an early 20-14 lead. The main perpetrator of this long range onslaught was point guard Jimmy Baron, the son of Rhode Island head coach Jim Baron, who nailed four of his six three point makes in the game's first four minutes.

The Orange were able to pull ahead 25-24 a few minutes later, but an 11-0 run by the Rams gave the visiting team a 10 point cushion [35-25] at the 8:54 mark. The torrid offensive pace ground to a screeching halt over the next three minutes of the game, as both teams failed to capitalize on many seemingly easy scoring opportunities. For Syracuse, the offensive futility was highlighted by a missed dunk by Paul Harris on a two-on-one fast break — one of several dunks the Orange would miss throughout the game.

Junior shooting guard Eric Devendorf finally broke the extended drought by making a pair of free throws at the 6:31 mark. Freshman center Rick Jackson, who set a career high in scoring against the Rams, connected on a jump hook on the next possession to spark a Syracuse run. The Orange closed the half with an 18-8 burst, giving the home team a 47-43 lead going into intermission. The Syracuse scoring was fairly balanced in the first half, with Johnny Flynn, Donte Green, Arinze Onuaku, Devendorf, and Jackson all registering at least 8 points.

The streaking Orange threatened to pull away in the opening minutes of the second half on the strength of a 9-3 run that gave the home team a 56-46 lead. But the Rhode Island team remained poised, and proceeded to chip away at the lead over the game's next few minutes. The Rams were able to capitalize on poor defense from the Orange — both in transition and in failing to close out on shooters in half-court sets — to tie the game 72-72 at the 8:00 mark, precipitating a Syracuse time out.

The game was essentially neck-and-neck the rest of the way, with neither team being able to extend to more than a 3 point lead. Freshman point guard Jonny Flynn nailed a jumper and later hit a free throw to give Syracuse a brief and tenuous 75-72 lead, but Rhode Island responded with a 5-0 run that tipped the lead in favor of the Rams. Onuaku tied the game at 79-79 at the 4:28 mark, and Flynn gave the Orange a 2-point lead at the 3:57 mark, finishing a gorgeous left handed layup on a penetrating foray to the hoop.

Unfortunately, Syracuse was unable to hold this lead. Rhode Island countered with yet another 40 second, 5-0 scoring flurry, and the Orange were once again staring down the wrong side of a three-point deficit at 84-81.

With the game on the line, the Syracuse players made one final push, scoring the game's next 6 points to take an 87-84 lead. Rhode Island quickly cut the lead to 87-86 after a Syracuse foul, and after Flynn missed a long jumpshot, the Rams took the lead for good after forward Lamonte Ulmer scored inside on a point blank layup at the 1:10 mark.

The Orange were unable to connect on the team's two subsequent offensive possessions, with Paul Harris and Devendorf both missing open shots. With the clock now the enemy, Syracuse was forced to send Rhode Island to the free throw line in the game's waning moments in an attempt to extend the game. Guard Parfait Bittee calmly knocked down a pair of free throws to give the Rams a 90-87 lead, but the desperate Orange cut the lead to 90-89 on a driving layup from Flynn.

With only 8 seconds remaining in the game, the Orange were again forced to foul. This time, the player sent to the line was Rhode Island big man Joe Mbang. Mbang missed the first free throw, opening the door for the Orange to tie or win the game in the closing seconds.

After Mbang made the second free throw to give the Rams a 91-89 lead with a mere 5 seconds to go, Rhode Island called a timeout to set up their defense. Unfortunately, the Orange were unable to get the ball to their point guard / leading scorer, Flynn, on the inbounds play, forcing the ball into the hands of reserve guard Josh Wright.

With the game on the line, Wright pushed the ball upcourt and promptly got rid of it, dishing to an open teammate streaking up the right side of the court. The recipient of the pass was Paul Harris, who took two hard dribbles, squared up, and let fly a buzzer-beating shot from three point range…


Final score: Rhode Island 91, Syracuse 89.

The Orange fell to 6-3 on the season, despite having six players score in double digits. The loss also squandered several impressive individual performances, most notably from Flynn [who finished the game with 21 points and 10 assists] and Jackson [who registered a career-high 13 points].

Next up for Syracuse: the East Tennessee State Buccaneers, at 7:00pm in the Carrier Dome, on Saturday, December 15th.

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