Syracuse passes its first test of the year with an 89-83 victory over the 18th ranked Florida Gators in the semi-finals of the College Basketball Experience Classic Monday night.
The Orange's fourth victory of the year is dedicated to all those analysts who say the ‘Cuse never play games outside of New York state until January (i.e. Dick Vitale, Doug Gottlieb). Head coach Jim Boeheim's squad had a golden opportunity to prove to the country it could play with the best on a neutral court in Kansas City. And the Orange did just that.
With the score tied at seven a piece early on, Syracuse went on a 7-0 run that was capped off by a three from Andy Rautins. Florida would not be flustered and chipped away at the lead until it took a 24-21 advantage with under nine minutes left in the half. But that lead would only last for a little more than a minute, as Rautins canned another three-pointer to knot the game.
The junior guard would hit a total of five shots from beyond the arc to lead the Orange with 15 first-half points. Paul Harris added 10 points to give the ‘Cuse a 41-38 halftime advantage despite the fact Eric Devendorf was held scoreless and Jonny Flynn only had one basket.
Only about three minutes into the second half, the Orange captured its biggest lead of the game with a 12 point advantage. Once again the Gators were able to close the gap to five mid-way through, but then Flynn came alive. The sophomore hit a three and then finished a fast-break off with a dunk to push the Orange advantage back up to double-digits, 74-64, with seven minutes to go.
Florida made one last run as Erving Walker hit a three to cut the lead to 83-79. But Syracuse would hit six of its ten free throw attempts in the last minute and a half of the game to seal the victory and stay undefeated.
Some other observations from Syracuse's 89-83 win over Florida:
· As I said before, sooner or later Andy Rautins would find his stroke. And did he ever in the first half. Rautins hit 5-of-7 (71.4 percent) from downtown for all 15 of his points. While he only played four minutes in the second half, it's a great sign. The guard had struggled in his last two games, going 2-of-14 from the field with only one point in the Richmond game.
· Can you believe Eric Devendorf did not score at all in the first half? I can't and the Orange was still able to go into the locker room with a three point lead. And Jonny Flynn only had two points to go on top of that. Those guys are not going to do that too often, so I'd say that shows this team has depth. Heck, the bench actually outscored the starters by one point in the first period of play.
· Speaking of that depth, Syracuse had five players score in double-figures. Once again Jonny Flynn led the way, dropping in a total of 18, but more importantly, 16 came in the second half. Florida had no answer for Arinze Onuaku who added 13 points and had a game-high 12 rebounds. Harris also recorded his second double-double of the year tying Flynn's total of 18 points while grabbing 11 caroms off the glass.
· I continue to be impressed by Kris Joseph. Coming off a career-best 13 point performance, the freshman followed it up with 10 points, collected five rebounds, and dished out three assists. Joseph is just a solid player and he's gained Boeheim's trust as the forward played 26 minutes off the bench.
· The victory is the 775th of Boeheim's career and the game marked the 1,053rd he has coached. That ties him with John Chaney for 18th place on the career list of most games coached in Division I.
Syracuse (4-0) takes on the Kansas Jayhawks, a rematch of the 2003 national title game, in the championship game of the College Basketball Experience Classic on Tuesday night.