People say that baseball is "a game of inches". An inch between a ball and a strike, an inch between fair and foul. Oh, that inch can be ever so fickle...
The Syracuse Orange found out just how fickle that inch can be. To be sure, the sport tonight was different, but the expression of "a game of inches" held just the same. A slight half-inch change to the trajectory of Jonny Flynn's final shot at the buzzer, and the Orange would have beaten the Big East's best team on the road in overtime in front of an incredibly hostile crowd. A half-inch to the right and DeJuan Summers' foot would have been more obviously out of bounds after a "come from behind" steal on Donte Greene and Jessie Sapp's runout layup to tie the game at 60 would have been negated. An extra half inch on an Arinze Onuaku free throw, and... well, let's not go there.
Nevertheless, that's how close things were tonight. The Syracuse Orange, who had played so listlessly in their previous road losses at Cincinnati and West Virginia, dug deep and put forth a valiant fight against a Georgetown team that has lost only twice this season. It wasn't pretty by any stretch and the end result wasn't the desired outcome, but Syracuse made some major strides in this game.
For the first time this year, the 'Cuse really bought into the fact that they need to play defense to compete. The zone was more active tonight than it has been at any point during the season. The players covered ground and contested shots, and went to the boards hard, where they dominated the physical Hoyas 43-33. They matched physical play from the opposition with physical play of their own. They didn't back down. If this team had been able to field this kind of effort in their previous road games, they wouldn't be faced with a 3-4 Big East record heading into Sunday's game against Providence.
The other thing that they did is show great heart in fighting back from a big deficit. A pair of three pointers from Jonathan Wallace and a Roy Hibbert lay-up at the 1:14 mark of the first half gave the Hoyas a 35-24 lead. Faced with similar uphill battles in previous road games, the Orange had packed it in. But tonight freshman point guard Jonny Flynn hit a pair of jumpers just before the break to help cut that lead down to 7 and give Syracuse some momentum heading into the break.
Who would have thought that the Orange would have momentum going into halftime? The 3 minutes immediately before and after the break have been Syracuse's own personal nap time this year, as it seems every time they have a lead, the opposition hits a three just before the halftime buzzer, then comes out of the break and quickly negates that lead (see: Villanova). When SU has been down at the break, it has been the first 3 minutes of the second half that have done them in for good, as seen in the West Virginia game.
Not tonight however. SU began the second half with a 9-4 run to pull within 2 points at the 14:30 mark when Jonny Flynn intercepted a pass at the top of the zone and turned it into a fastbreak dunk. Syracuse continued to battle back and finally pulled ahead by one point on a Donte Greene lay-up with a little over 10 minutes remaining. The basket was assisted by Arinze Onuaku, who had an excellent floor game with 5 assists to go with his 12 points and 13 rebounds. For Greene, the play served as somewhat of a wake-up call. Until that point, he had had a dismal game, making only 1 of 12 shots.
Donte made a run at redeption down the stretch though. After Flynn made another pair of jumpers, Georgetown once again pulled within one on a Jonathan Wallace three pointer, but Onuaku kicked out to Greene on the ensuing play and Donte drilled a triple from the wing. He then hit another trifecta to give Syracuse its largest lead at 58-51 with 4:34 left. At this point it looked like Syracuse might be able to pull off the road stunner, but tired legs and limited offensive options down the stretch proved to be too much.
Georgetown clawed back to within 3 points with 4 straight free throws from Jeramiah Rivers and Roy Hibbert, but Donte once again made a key play. He made a wild spin move in the lane, nearly lost the ball, then threw up a crazy off balanced bank shot that somehow found the net, giving SU a 60-55 lead with 2 minutes to play. This basket proved to be Syracuse's final field goal in the game.
The Hoyas made short work of the lead as Jessie Sapp raced down the floor and hit an uncontested three pointer to trim the lead to 60-58 just 10 seconds after Greene's basket. Syracuse ran the shot clock down under 10 seconds and Jonny Flynn drove the lane but got clobbered by Rivers. While he complained to the referees about the "no call" Austin Freeman picked up the lose ball and threw an outlet to Sapp, who once again raced down the court to tie the game on a layup over Scoop Jardine. Sapp finished the game with 11 pts, 7 rebs, and 5 ast but his play in the final two minutes of regulation proved to be the ultimate difference in the game.
Syracuse had the ball with 40 seconds remaining and a full shotclock, which they worked down to a few second before Jonny Flynn missed a pull-up jumper. Paul Harris moved into position for the offensive rebound but was literally pushed/pinned to the ground and Austin Freeman pulled in the rebound. Georgetown called a time out to set up a final shot, but Jeremiah Rivers' long three pointer at the buzzer clanked long off the back of the iron.
It was sort of a shame that this highly emotional and entertaining game had to go into overtime. The final five minutes turned into a battle of attrition as an obviously exhausted and spent Syracuse team simply could not get anything resembling a good look at the basket. The final score of the OT was 4-2 and Roy Hibbert's mid-range jumper in the lane was the only shot made from the field. Arinze Onuaku got position on the inside but was so exhausted that he missed what would otherwise have been "gimme" point blank shots. He wasn't any better at the free throw line, where he whiffed on 4 freebie attempts.
Missed free throws ended up being a huge factor. Donte Greene missed a pair of huge free throws with 6 minutes left in regulation that would have extended SU's lead to 6 points. Onuaku missed all 4 of his FT attempts in OT, and Greene was fouled shooting a three with 44 seconds left and connected on only 2 of 3. Had he made all three FT, the Georgetown lead would have been down to 1 and Boeheim would likely have set up a different play for the game's closing possession.
Boeheim followed the old adage of trying to win on the road and set up a high screen to try to free Jonny Flynn for a game-winning three, but Onuaku's screen was ineffectual and Roy Hibbert did a great job of hedging at the top of the key, which forced Flynn to retreat a few steps before launching a high arcing deep shot at the buzzer over Rivers. It wasn't the best look, but worse shots have gone in... unfortunately tonight the "inches" were on Georgetown's side.
For the second game in a row, Flynn was the leading scorer and go to guy for the game's first 30 minutes. Unfortunately, for the second game in a row, he also ran out of gas down the stretch and closed the game out by missing his last (large) handful of shots. Flynn finished with 24 points and 2 assists while playing all 45 minutes but was 9-23 from the field after starting 9-15.
John Thompson III got between 12 and 37 minutes from 8 players at the top of his rotation, while Boeheim's Iron Men all logged between 39 and 45 minutes. Kristof Ongenaet played 13 productive minutes, providing 4 points and 4 boards, while Rick Jackson got the remaining 3 minutes and was brutally victimized by Hibbert in his short time on the court.
The game marked a monumental improvement over Syracuse's previous road games, but the common theme of Donte Greene going bezerk with his shot selection held true again. Greene hit his first three pointer, then went on to miss his next 11 shot attempts before settling into a decent groove in the second half when he finally let the game come to him. He finished with 15 points and 9 rebounds, but missed 14 of his 19 shots from the field and 3 of his 5 attempts from the line. He first half shot selection needs to be reined in, because it is painfully obvious that he shoots the ball a lot better in the flow of an offensive set rather than when he hucks up 23 foot off-balanced shots with 29 seconds left on the shot clock.
As with most of the SU players, Arinze Onuaku had some very nice positives and some very painful negatives in his ledger. Onuaku showed a new dimension today with some excellent passing. He hooked up with Paul Harris for 2 drop-down feeds off inbounds plays, and he also had 2 assists to Greene. He proved he could hold his own against the best in the Big East, but he also proved that he can't be counted on to be a viable part of the offense in close, late situations. His 0-4 showing at the line in OT was brutal.
Paul Harris really struggled to get good looks on offense against a very large and very defensive-minded Georgetown team. He finished the game with 7 points and got back into double digits in the rebounding category with 10, but made just 3 of 8 shots from the field. Fortunately he deferred to Flynn and Greene during the second half after a few ill-advised shot attempts earlier in the game. Paul's game is all about effort and match-ups, and while the effort was there tonight, the match-up certainly wasn't in his favor.
Scoop Jardine was a virtual non-factor in the game. You'll be hard-pressed to find another 39 minute - 0 point, 1 assist, 0 rebound stat line anywhere. His 4 turnovers where quite costly. Hopefully he can shake off this game and get back to playing like he did against South Florida and Villanova. After starting Big East play with a stellar 23:8 Ast:TO ratio, he has turned in a 3:12 mark in the last two games.
The Orange have a bit of a breather with 6 days before their next game, a home tilt against an improved Providence team. After that, they go back on the road for pair of games against DePaul and Villanova. Syracuse had better figure out how to win some games on the road or their post season hopes will become even more bleak.