There is an old saying when it comes to the “one and done” type tournaments: survive and advance. That is exactly what top seed Syracuse (32-2) did against No. 16 UNC-Ashevilla (24-10) as they rode the storm and pulled out a 72 to 65 victory after being down 34 to 30 at the half. And just like many times, in this one the final score does not indicate the way the game went, as the Orange had to sweat this one from the beginning to basically the end of the game and for much of the game the reality that No. 2 AP & ESPN/USA Today Syracuse could be the first No. 1 seed to lose in the first round of the tournament was on the mind of many people, including mine. For head coach Jim Boeheim’s team this was a game to forget, especially in the first half, where its two seniors, Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine, combined for a total of two points, while most of the team looked out out sync for most of the forty minutes of playing time.
In my preview I said that Joseph would be the leading scorer of the game, and there I was off, as James Southerland came off the bench to lead all Orange with 15, all but two of the in the second half. I had also said the quartet of Jardine, Joseph, Southerland and C.J. Fair would be the players that would step up with the absence of Fab Melo, as three of the four would score in double digits. The first three did just that, but for Fair this was a game to forget as he scored just three points (1 for 7 ~ 0 for 1 ~ 1 for 1) in fifteen minutes of play, with the little playing time coming because of two fouls picked up before the first television time out in the game. The two seniors scored 23 combined, but were an atrocius 6 for 18 from the floor and 1 from 9 from beyond the arc, while guard Dion Waiters, who also came off the bench, scored a dozen points.
While for SU it’s a win and it means moving forward to play on Saturday, the reality is that this team left a lot of questions to anyone that watched the game. Against a team that they towered over the Orange outrebounded them by 2, 33 to 31, and while the offensive boards were 15 to 10 for Syracuse, seeing the size differential this is just not enough. What got the W for coach Boeheim’s team were the seven extra shots they took from the field and the eight more free throws. Both of those came due to the fact that SU had the size advantage against UNC-A and this will not be the case going forward. Also to think about was that it seemed that no one for SU wanted to drive the lane until late in the second part of the game. Lastly, the team from the Salt City won this game with the Bulldogs having a couple of their better scorers not being able to click on offense, meaning that they did not win a game against a team going off and hitting everything, they won with their opposition also struggling.
The referees were not top notch in this game, making several bad calls for and against each team, however there were two of them that went against the Bulldogs in the last 90 seconds that made the 18,900+ fans boo pretty loudly. The first one was a lane violation with 1:20 left as Jardine missed the front end of a 1 and 1 but the refs called the opponents for entering the lane too soon. The point guard got to shoot the front end again, making that one and the next one as well, giving SU a 64-58 lead. About a minute later, with the score being 66 to 63 for SU, the ball went out of bounds off SU’s Brandon Triche but the officials gave it to the Orange. Once again Jardine, a 49% free throw shooter, was fouled on the inbounds play and made both, giving SU a 68 to 63 lead. While no one will even know how the game would have gone with the two calls going the opposite way, but it’s a shame for a game like this one to have more said about the officials than about the players. After the game the coordinator of the referees said he would have given the ball to UNC-Asheville and not Syracuse on the out of bounds play.
For Syracuse it’s some rest and then getting ready for No. 8 Kansas State, who defeated No. 9 Souther Miss by the final of 70 to 64. The game will be played at CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh, PA. with tip off time not yet determined. The question on the mind of the fan base (and this blogger) is will this trend of what seemed either lackadaisical or non-caring play continue or was this a blip on the radar and we will see this team re-focus for the rest of the tournament? Only time will tell, and for us that time is from now until Saturday afternoon.