The roller-coster ride that is the 2007-08 Syracuse men's basketball season looked to be plummetting out of control after an 89-77 loss to South Florida earlier in the week. Just when it seemed that the Orange were about to bottom-out, the team reached a new height on Saturday afternoon in its 77-70 victory over the #8 ranked Georgetown Hoyas. The Orange used a suffocating first half zone defense to build a comfortable 21 point lead and held off several late Hoya surges to emerge with its most important win of the season - one that is likely to vault SU back onto the NCAA tourney bubble and may serve as a catalyst for a late season run.
The Orange fell behind 8-4 early as DeJuan Summers connected on a three-pointer and a pair of free throws. Summers finished with 14 points, 6 rebs, and 3 assists and had the hot hand early, but finished just 4 of 14 from the field at game's end. Although SU faced a deficit 6 minutes into the game, it was evident that the 'Cuse players had good energy and that the zone was likely to be more stingy than it was against USF. The catalyzing play that launch SU's best run of the season came when Jonny Flynn picked up a steal at the top of the zone and found Paul Harris streaking to the basket. Harris was undercut and fouled by Jessie Sapp (11 pts, 5 reb, 2 ast) but he still managed to "will" his awkward fingerroll through the hoop, then he connected on the ensuing free throw to give SU a 9-8 advantage that electrified the Carrier Dome crowd.
With the Dome faithful now firmly behind the hometown team, Harris and company took control of the game. He showed no hesitation on the next play, launching and connecting on a three pointer from the corner to give SU a 12-8 lead, and Syracuse continued to pour it on until the scoring spurt ballooned to 28-4. Keep in mind that this came against the best defensive team in the Big East. At game's end, Syracuse became only the second team to eclipse the 70 point mark against Georgetown all season (undefeated Memphis being the other).
Two key factors played a role in SU's first half dominance – defense, and a willingness to mix it up inside. The 2-3 zone was incredibly active, particularly at the top of the zone where Flynn and Harris continually harassed the otherwise sure-handed Hoyas in turnover after turnover, and also on the wing, where Kristof Ongenaet seemed to get his hands on virtually every pass in his vicinity and also went hard to the glass for defensive rebounds. With Ongenaet doing yeoman's work on the defensive end, Arinze Onuaku (13 pts, 4 rebs) went right at Roy Hibbert (11 pts, 3 rebs) on the offensive end. Onuaku scored SU's first 4 points on the afternoon but more importantly set the tone for Syracuse with an early statement that said "we're not going to be intimidated". This translated very well, as Syracuse went into the break having scored a remarkable 25 points in the paint. More importantly, the aggressiveness near the basket allowed the Orange to effectively take Roy Hibbert out of the game by placing him in early foul trouble. Simply put Georgetown is a different team when he is on the bench, as JTIII's team clearly missed his experience, poise, and astute passing game against the SU zone.
Georgetown put together a 5-0 mini run to close out the first half, but they still trailed 38-22. Paul Harris and Donte Greene scored 10 points apiece before the break, with Greene catching fire mid-way through the half after once again starting slowly. His end game shooting stats were nothing to write home about (7-22 fg / 4 -16 3pt), but he seemed to step up and make the big play when he had to today. He connected on a few three-pointers that staunched Georgetown runs and also made the game's prettiest pass when he threw a bullet no-look pass to Arinze under the basket for the dunk.
Despite the big first half lead, you knew the Hoyas would make a game of it. After turning the ball over 12 times in the first half, Georgetown took much better care of it after the break and eliminated most of the fastbreak and run-out opportunities that had helped the Orange to their big lead. Their renewed focus led to a 12-5 run to start the second half, cutting the SU lead all the way down to 7 points on a layup from Jonathan Wallace. The former walk-on turned in an extremely impressive game with 26 points on 9-10 shooting from the field. It seemed that every time Georgetown needed a basket, he was there to make a big shot either floating in the lane or launching from well beyond the arc (6-7 3pt). However, SU had its own mad bomber on the afternoon and Donte Greene connected on a triple to stop the Hoyas' first surge of the second half and help re-establish a 13 point lead for the home team.
After the Greene trifecta, Harris once again electrified the crowd with a steal at the top of the key and breakaway dunk where he took off from just inside the foul line. Harris continued his strong recent play with 22 points and 8 rebounds as he proved to be too strong for the Georgetown guards. A pair of free throws from Jonny Flynn gave SU a 17 point lead, but the Hoyas once again roared back, this time behind a 12-0 run that allowed them to pull with 5 points with 7 minutes remaining in the game.
Here is where things got interesting. Flashing back to the January 21st game at the Verizon Center, the Orange were not able to hold off a late Hoya run, so undoubtedly most ‘Cuse fans were beginning to get nervous. Fortunately, this time around the ‘Cuse got some key contributions from freshmen down the stretch, as Greene once again hit a clutch three pointer, then the Philly connection made a pair of big plays with Rick Jackson hitting two free throws and Scoop Jardine scoring on a slick Edelin-esque up and under move on the fastbreak to keep the SU margin at +10 with 5 minutes remaining. This was Jardine's sole score on the afternoon, but it proved to be a huge basket.
Syracuse was able to milk this lead down the 1:30 mark, but then Paul Harris had a mini-meltdown that threatened to undo a game's worth of excellent play. An ill-advised offensive foul, a turnover, and a foul on Wallace shooting a three just about had Boeheim tearing out what few hairs he has left on his head. Wallace, statistically the best free throw shooter in the history of Georgetown basketball, bailed out Harris by making only 2 of 3 free throws. Harris then closed out the game with a measure of redemption as he connected on 5 of 6 from the free throw line in the game's waning moments, preserving the SU victory.
Despite a 4-3 overall record in their last 7 games, the Orange have looked like a much improved team (the USF aberration/abomination notwithstanding). Two of the three losses came at the hands of teams ranked in the national top 20 by a combined 4 points. Two Jonny Flynn buzzer-beaters and the Orange would be 19-7 / 9-4 and SU fans would be contemplating seeding rather than just worrying about getting an at large bid. Regardless, Saturday's win affords the Orange the opportunity to gain some momentum and make a move towards securing an at large bid, as the final 5 regular season games all come against top 70 RPI teams and 4 of these games come against teams that are essentially considered "locks" for the tourney. The victory over Georgetown is nice, but the Orange MUST secure a key road win over either Louisville or Notre Dame before the season is up.
Syracuse-Georgetown 77-70 post game player evaluations by Daniel Langevin:
Although he did a couple of stupid things at the end of the game like getting a ten second violation, fouling a three point shooter, and going in for an out of control dunk early in the shot clock, he knocked down the free throws Syracuse needed to put the game away. His defense was sound from start to finish and he was the emotional leader. On the offensives side of the ball he played aggressive as always. Most of his points came from the perimeter as he knocked down jumpers and a three from the corner. In the early going he scored seven straight points, as the Cuse took their first lead and never looked back. If you get a chance to watch the ESPN highlights you should be able to see him rise in what looks like a Julius Erving dunk from the foul line. Nice game Paul.
In a game where Roy Hibbert was supposed to control the inside, it was the faster ‘Cuse players like Johnny Flynn that kept him from doing so by attacking him and drawing fouls. Thankfully Flynn was able to stay under control on his drives and did not commit any offensive fouls en way to a high assist to turnover performance (9 to 2). Flynn seemed to repeatedly find the open man and would have likely registered even more assists if Greene shot closer to his normal percentage. He out played the point guard tandem of Sapp and Wallace and neither one of them could guard him.
After playing very few minutes against the University of South Florida, K. O. (dome alias) got the start and played hard, contributing on the glass and doing an excellent job in the zone. K.O. got out on shooters and as a testament to his tenacity, most of the threes were taken from the top of the key and the opposite elbow. His offensive game is a little lacking, but around the basket he finds a way to finish.
I have to give Jimmy props for this win. It looked like his team was well prepared for the Hoya Zone offense. The younger Cuse team appeared to be more mature than the older Hoyas and I know home court is part of the story, but some of the credit should go to Boeheim. There weren't any lags after timeouts and even when the Hoyas were making a run in the second half, Boeheim appeared collected and confident on the sidelines. I was particularly happy with some of the sets that he called out, isolating Donte' Green at the foul line for a little one on one vs. Summers, running Johnny off a double screen for an open look from three, and getting the ball early inside to A.O.. The rest of the season is going to be a challenge, but a big win like this might be the lift the guys need to get the ball rolling into March. Road games against Louisville and Notre Dame are sure to put this team in a volatile environment, but it is the opportunity Syracuse has to take in order to prove they are a tournament team.
After starting out cold missing three shots in the first few minutes, he was able to get his legs under him and cashed a three at 11:29 left in the first half. In the second half there was no slow start for him, as he hit Cuse's first basket and later ended a Georgetown run that narrowed the lead to five by hitting a three. His offensive game was reminiscent of the game at Georgetown where he chucked up a bunch of threes and eighteen foot jumpers, but in this game a lot more of them fell. He was even able to use a pick and role with A.O. and dished the ball to A.O. under the basket for a lay-up. Overall it was a very good performance with few blemishes, other than hitting Summers on the elbow when he was shooting a three.
Although A.O. fouled out with 3:50 left in the game, the crowd rose to their feet and gave him a round of applause. The big man was solid inside making the zone all but impenetrable. In the second half Hibbert got some looks from the foul line and was able to exploit the zone, but overall Hibbert offensively was almost a nonfactor. A.O. did a great job cleaning up the glass and there were few second chance points for the Hoyas. Hopefully A.O. will continue to be aggressive on offense and use his size more effectively to protect the ball when he is shooting a layup. A.O. finally played like the mountain of a man that he is and did not allow weaker Hoya players to take position on him.
The Bench Scoop Jardine
Scoop replaced Harris with a little over six minutes left in the game. Was it the right move? It worked out, but time after time Scoop's inability to find three point shooters is cause for concern. Sapp was wide open in an area that Scoop was supposed to be guarding and wasted no time hitting the three. That was enough for Boeheim and Paul was back in the game. Scoop did have a strong drive to the baskets and gave Harris a much-needed rest. On a bench that is only three players long, he is the best guard substitution available and should continue to improve with the minutes he plays.
The man was big inside and there was no drop off in play when A.O. he fouled out. Down the stretch he grabbed some big boards and he was fired up. Good playing from the big guy.
After controlling the tip and getting an early lead, Georgetown appeared to be carrying over their warm-up crispness, but quickly their game deteriorated. They had twelve turn-overs in the first half and struggled shooting the ball, scoring only 22 points on six for twenty shooting. After half-time Georgetown made a quick run to cut the lead to nine with 15:59 remaining, but they were never able to whittle the lead down to one possession and put the pressure on the ‘Cuse. John Thompson III couldn't get his guys to attack the 2-3 zone, as his guys passed the ball around the perimeter and failed to drive. Better luck next year.