Syracuse played poorly for 30 minutes but found a way to avoid the upset with some timely shooting and a clutch performance from junior forward James Southerland, winning 72-65. The Orange were down by four at the half as UNC-Asheville found holes in the SU zone, both in the high-post and beyond the arc. The Bulldog’s lead stretched to as large as seven, but Syracuse fought back and re-gained the lead for good after Southerland hit a jumper with six minutes left in the game.
Here are three thoughts from the game:
Southerland Is The X-factor
Southerland struggles to grab rebounds and tends to get shot-happy whenever he’s in the game. But he has stepped it up lately and has become the X-factor for a sometimes stagnant Syracuse half-court offense. Despite being just a 31 percent three-point shooter, Southerland is 8-21 from deep in the last five games. He seems to be hitting his stride. When Southerland is making shots, the SU offense has a new dimension. The Orange will need contributions from him if Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph keep struggling to score.
The Christmas/ Keita Combo Is Adequate Enough
The two role players played with a little bit more energy than usual and combined for 10 points and eight rebounds. Even with a lackluster overall game for the Orange, Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita were not a weak point. Christmas was aggressive on the boards and looked fluid running up and down the court. Keita had a couple highlight plays and proved he doesn’t always have stone hands. If the Christmas/Keita frontcourt combination can keep playing this well, they will be adequate enough for the Orange to make a run.
Syracuse NEEDS to be better in the half-court
Coming into the tournament, half-court offense was an issue for the Orange. Well, it still is. UNC-Asheville slowed the pace and forced SU to beat them when they were in a zone. Like usual, Syracuse hoisted way too many threes (23) and didn’t try to attack or play with urgency until they really needed to. If Syracuse is going to make an extended run in the tournament, they can’t only score in transition. Simply put, they need to be better in the half-court to keep winning.
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