The Syracuse Orange bounced back from last Saturday’s shocking late-game meltdown against Pittsburgh by posting an important 85-73 road victory over Seton Hall on Wednesday evening. All 5 Syracuse starters finished in double figures as Boeheim’s crew tried to position itself back on the NCAA tournament bubble.
Wednesday’s victory wasn’t the prettiest in Boeheim’s illustrious career, but it was certainly an important one. With the season spiraling out of control with 5 loses in the last 6 games, a loss at Seton Hall would have utterly doomed the Orange. Even with the win Syracuse has a ton of work to do to gain an at-large bid, but the prospects seem a bit better than they were coming into the game.
The main key on Wednesday was the fact that for the first time in what seemed ages, the ‘Cuse got major contributions from every starter. No one player had a break-through dominating type of performance, but every player had key moments in the game.
For Kristof Ongenaet, early aggressiveness was the key. He turned in a double-double before the first half buzzer sounded and converted two crazy circus-shots to help SU take an early lead. Ongenaet scored the Orange’s first 6 points on a three pointer from the wing and an old-fashioned three point play where he hit an over-the-shoulder shot after Donte Greene saved the ball from going out of bounds.
Jonny Flynn's key contribution was playing poised all game long. He scored 16 points and dished out 8 assists and generally was the only Orange[man] who didn’t seem utterly careless with the basketball. It was far from his best game of the season, but it was the type of game that SU fans look for in their point guard. On the downside, Jonny once again seemed to shy away from the ball down the stretch - he needs to demand the ball against the opponents' pressure and be willing and able to step up and make game-clinching free throws.
For Paul Harris, the key was closing out the game. Harris was a mere spectator for most of the evening, but down the stretch he became the go-to guy, scoring 8 points in the final 2:30. His first points in this stretch came on a pull-up jumper in the paint, then he took the ball to the rack and finished with his left hand on the ensuing possession. He then closed out the game by making 4 of 6 free throws down the stretch to ensure an SU victory. Harris also added 6 rebounds and several strong passes, but was once again careless with the ball on numerous occasions. In particular, he had one very lazy cross-court pass in transition that resulted in a breakaway for the Pirates.
Harris's late game scoring sustained the SU offense.
Arinze Onuaku's key contribution was playing strong all game long. Onuaku posted a solid stat line of 17 points and 14 rebounds and was the physically dominant player in this game. He showed excellent footwork and the ability to create spacing during post-up moves and also finished strong whenever given the opportunity. On the downside, he made only 3 of 10 free throws and eventually fouled out of the game, but his steadying influence on the interior helped the Orange to maintain a lead despite numerous Seton Hall charges.
Onuaku powers to the basket.
For Donte Greene, the key was a trio of three point shots hit in the final ten minutes of the first half. These baskets helped to distance the Orange from Seton Hall and open up a double digit lead. Greene finished with 19 points on 8-21 shooting and showed the ability to convert inside the arc, where he shot a solid 5 of 9. In the second half Greene had several key plays around the hoop and he also dished out 4 assists, most of which came off the dribble. His 3-12 shooting from the perimeter was less than stellar, but he was able to string together three makes in a row – timing was the key here. Donte needs to understand that offensive diversity will be the key to his further development. He showed some tonight, but will that care over against better teams?
Greene skies for a dunk.
Scoop Jardine's key contribution was a pair of steals that he converted into fastbreak baskets late in the first half. These plays helped to give SU a 15 point lead and moreover showed that Jardine could play a bigger role heading into the postseason. He also knocked down some free throws and in general took better care of the ball than he had in recent games.
Jardine was also involved in a bizarre play at the end of the half where he stole the ball and was then fouled shooting a running three pointer as the clock expired. Scoop hit 2 of 3 free throws, but these points were wiped away when review of the game clock showed that the clock had stopped during Seton Hall’s penultimate possession. If these points had been allowed, SU would have placed 6 different players in double figures.
The only player in the rotation that didn’t have a big impact on the game was Rick Jackson, who was pulled early in the game after committing a careless turnover. Jackson eventually got some late minutes due to Onuaku fouling out. While he grabbed a few contested rebounds, he also committed a foolish foul on Jeremy Hazell shooting a three pointer from the corner.
Syracuse dominated the glass 54-29 with three different players grabbing at least 10 boards apiece. Onuaku led the way with 14, Donte Greene had 13 and Ongenaet added 11 more. The ability to attack the glass allowed SU to extend possessions.
The biggest question at this point is how many wins does Syracuse need to garner an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament? SU probably played itself back into the "bubble teams" conversation by registering its 18th win on Wednesday. That number in and of itself is hardly impressive, but the number that does deserve attention is SU’s strength of schedule, which is currently #11 in the country and will move into the top 10 by the time the Big East tournament is over.
The problem is that SU has no way to leapfrog the 7 locks ahead of them in the Big East standings, so in large part they are at the mercy of the NCAA selection committee again. As such, the Orange will really have to make their mark in the Big East tourney to show the committee that they are a hot team capable of making a run in the NCAAs. The only way they'll get in is if the committee is willing to select 8 teams from the Big East, so SU will have to clearly out-perform the Villanova Wildcats in New York City. This is all assuming that the ‘Cuse can hold court on Saturday and pull off an upset of Marquette. Lets hope that the Orange aren’t looking ahead to New York City next week - they can't afford a slip up in the regular season finale.