Trevor Cooney's shooting struggles over the last few months have been well documented. Over the previous seven games entering the NCAA Tournament, Cooney was shooting just 25.3% from the field and 21.1% from the three-point range.
During that same stretch, Syracuse also struggled offensively, routinely shooting under 40%. On Thursday, everything changed. Cooney was hitting shots from the outside, hitting step-back jumpers, attacking the rim and drawing fouls. The Trevor Cooney that was lighting up opponents earlier in the season was back.
"It's a big difference when he makes shots," head coach Jim Boeheim said. "I thought he made better use of the dribble. He attracted guys to him. He drew two fouls shooting threes which he usually doesn't do…He's much too athletic a player to be just a shooter."
Cooney had a game-high 18-points, leading Syracuse to a 77-53 win over Western Michigan in the NCAA Tournament. It was a sigh of relief for most Syracuse fans, but the sophomore guard insisted his confidence never waivered despite his shooting slump.
"My confidence was never down," Cooney said. "I had some games where the ball didn't go in for me. I made a lot threes this year so it was just a matter of coming out and doing it."
Holding a 7-4 lead, Cooney received a pass at the corner of the three-point arc. A defender noticed the open sharp-shooter and came flying towards him. Cooney calmly pump faked, dribbled to his left and found an even better look. He rose into the air, flicked his wrist, and watched the ball rotate and splash through the First Niagara Center net.
That extended the Syracuse lead to six, and changed the body language of the Orange sharp-shooter. Cooney let out a yell as he ran back to assume his spot at the top of the zone. Almost symbolically releasing the frustration from his prolonged slump.
Cooney made four of his eight three-point attempts, and five of his 10 shots overall. He drove to the basket, hit mid-range jumpers, handled the ball well, and showed the diverse offensive game that made him such a valuable weapon earlier in the season.
Of course it is just one game, but it is much more than that for the mental stability of Cooney, his team and the Orange fan base. He gets back on the court very soon, as Syracuse faces a solid Dayton squad on Saturday.