Orange Tackle Bulls for 2nd Big East win.

The Orange got strong contributions from all over the court, including perhaps the best overall game of Scoop Jardine's young career, as they improved to 2-0 in Big East play with an 89-77 win over the 10-5 South Florida Bulls. With the victory, the Orange have quietly improved to 12-3 on the season and will now head out on the road to face Cincinnati and West Virginia next week.

Five players reached double figures for the Orange, led by Donte Greene's 21. Greene knocked down three treys and grabbed nine boards in the win, narrowly missing his chance to become the third Syracuse player to record a double-double in the game. Paul Harris had 20 points and led the way on the boards with 13 rips, and Arinze Onuaku played USF stud Kentrell Gransberry to a standstill with 16 points and 12 boards.

Greene, Harris, and Onuaku combined to score the first 17 points of the game for the Orange as they got out to an early 17-11 lead that was extended to 19-11 when Kristof Ongeneat scored with 13:10 left in the first half. South Florida got five quick points from Aaron Holmes during a 7-1 run to cut it to a 20-18 game, but a jumper from Jonny Flynn and a dunk by Onuaku pushed the lead back to six with 10:41 before the break.

For much of the season the Orange have been plagued by inconsistent play, particularly with their ball handling, shot selection, and transition and interior defense, and the ball handling troubles again proved to be a bit of an issue as sloppy passing led to consecutive steals and layups by Dominique Jones to make it a two point game at 24-22. A pair of free throws from Greene made it 26-22 but the Bulls cut it to one on a three from Jones at the 8:23 mark.

Dominique Jones led all scorers with 23 points.

However, the poised beyond his years Flynn immediately answered with a bucket to spark an 8-0 run that essentially put the game away, with Flynn and Jardine executing a terrific 2-on-1 break to cap off the spurt and make it 34-25 with six minutes before halftime.

The teams traded baskets over the course of the next four minutes, but the Orange finished the half strong with a 7-0 run that pushed it to a 14 point halftime lead behind the strong play of Harris, who assisted on an Onuaku layup and a Greene triple before finishing in the paint to make it 47-33 heading into the locker room.

Early in the second half it started to look like the break may have killed the Orange momentum from the end of the first, as Chris Howard scored to cut it to a 10 point game early on and Adamu Saaka answered a Jardine jumper with a long three to cut it to 49-40. The Bulls had an opportunity to continue their run after Harris lost the ball on the ensuing Orange possession, but after a missed Holmes three point attempt Flynn knocked down a jumper with 17:22 to play.

USF got it back down to a nine point deficit with a pair of Jones free throws to make it 51-42, but once again it was Flynn making things happen on both ends of the court to help hold off the charging Bulls. After a skip pass sailed over his head, Flynn not only recovered in time to get in the face of his man, but also managed to draw the offensive foul, and as the Orange went the other way the freshman point guard found Greene for another three to make it a 54-42 game.

On the next USF trip Flynn's defense again stymied Howard, this time forcing him into a traveling violation. After that, it became the Scoop Jardine show at the Dome, with Flynn's fellow freshman point man getting a steal and finding Onuaku for a three point play to make it 57-42 at the 14:57 mark, and exactly one minute later Jardine found Flynn on the break for an easy basket. Jardine provided the game's signature moment when he took a defensive rebound and went coast to coast, dishing a beautiful no look pass to Greene for an emphatic two hand slam to give the Orange their largest lead of the day at 61-42 with 13:16 remaining.

The dunk by Greene would have served as the final nail in the USF coffin, but once again inexperience and lackadaisical play reared their ugly heads over the final four minutes, when the Orange lead dwindled from 79-63 to 81-71 in less than three minutes. Coming out of the final TV timeout, the Orange went to their old familiar stall ball tactics, but poor execution led to bad shots and sloppy passing, as the Orange missed four shots and turned it over twice during their six possessions over that stretch before a Harris layup got them over the 80 point mark.

Harris scored again to make it 83-71 with just over a minute to play, and Jardine scored six straight during the final minute of action to make it an 89-77 final.

While the issue was never really in doubt down the stretch, it was disappointing to see the total lack of a killer instinct with this young group, allowing USF to chip away at the lead by falling into the team's bad habits of taking bad shots and throwing lazy passes, along with allowing fairly easy penetration and not always getting back on defense as quickly as they could and should.

Still, it's hard to really fault this team for what amounted to approximately five minutes of frustrating play and knocking off a team with a true inside presence that could be one of the sleepers in the Big East this season. While those same flaws mentioned above continue to plague the Orange, it's encouraging to see that as these youngsters gain more experience the bad mistakes are lessening with each game.

Despite the excellent numbers from the Orange's starting frontcourt, perhaps the brightest spot of the day was the outstanding play from the two freshmen point guards. Of Flynn, this sort of play is expected, but most would admit that Jardine is coming along much quicker than anticipated, and it is easy to see the improvement as he gets more and more comfortable playing at this level.

After being relatively quiet in the first half, once the Bulls started to chip away at the Syracuse lead Flynn really stepped up and took control of the game, hitting a clutch jumper to stop the USF run and using his exceptional quickness to force two turnovers and also draw several fouls on the offensive end with his outstanding ability to break down defenders and get into the lane.

The Orange were at their best when they got out and ran today, which should be expected of a team that has four players on the court at almost all times who can grab the ball and push it, and Jardine and Flynn especially looked like dynamic playmakers in finding their teammates (and each other) for easy baskets on multiple occasions. The Orange had close to 30 fast break points, resulting from an overall strong defensive effort and a good job of getting on the boards.

Jardine finished the game knocking down 6-of-11 shots for 14 points to go along with his game-high eight assists and six rebounds, and Flynn finished with 12 points, six assists, and three steals.

It is easy to get excited about a team that in stretches plays flawless offensive basketball, but there are still issues that are potential causes for concern. For the second straight game, Greene found himself in early foul trouble, which simply cannot continue to happen if the Orange are to achieve any success this year. The other big issue (apart from the inconsistent play and occasional brain farts) is sadly one that cannot be resolved this year: depth. Ongeneat was solid in his limited time, but fouled out in just 12 minutes of action. Rick Jackson had a few nice moments, finishing with four rebounds in limited action, but also looked the part of a freshman out there today with some sloppy passes. Those two guys are going to have to step up, because right now they constitute the entire Syracuse bench.

No matter, the biggest thing that Orange fans can take away from this game is that, despite being riddled with injuries and lacking both experience and depth, they've got easily one of the most exciting teams in college basketball, and the emergence of Scoop Jardine as a legitimate Division 1 guard, along with the continued improvement of Arinze Onuaku, mean that Syracuse just might have enough in them to overcome the losses of Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins to make some noise in the Big East in 2008.


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