Twelve points, four rebounds, two blocks. That may not seem like an overly impressive statline, but when your name is Fab Melo, those kinds of numbers are huge. It was that type of play from the much maligned former McDonald’s All-American that helped Syracuse escape St. John’s Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament.
Coming off of a strong performance in a blowout of lowly DePaul, Melo’s confidence was high. That certainly paid off for the big Brazilian who played his most meaningful minutes in a meaningful game, and scored a career-high 12 points.
Possibly the most impressive part of Melo’s game – even more impressive than his 5-for-5 shooting performance – was that he committed zero turnovers. He also made a nifty pump-fake that allowed him to get an easy layup that gave the Orange a four point lead, 74-70, with 30 seconds remaining.
“Now I’m starting to get the speed of the game. I’m started to listen to coach, and just learn to take my time and go to the basket,” Melo said. “I got the ball on that last basket I made, I just faked it and I jumped and I scored under the basket.”
Though his timely basket was certainly important, it definitely wasn’t the only play he made. Early in the matchup with the Red Storm, it was Melo’s defense that stood out. The freshman, who has often been plagued with foul trouble, harassed St. John’s early and provide SU with some early momentum.
“I think he played great,” sophomore Brandon Triche said. “I was telling him on the court that this is a little taste of what next year’s going to be. He’s going to keep on getting better and better, and a lot of people are going to see it during the NCAA tournament.”
Triche scored a game-high 22 points to lead the Orange, and was the one who found Melo under the basket for that key score late in the game.
Balance was also key in SU’s victory. Joining Triche and Melo in double figures was Kris Joseph, 14, Rick Jackson, 10, and Scoop Jardine, 10. Freshman Dion Waiters nearly joined that group as well, as he chipped in eight points.
Most importantly, Syracuse – which is riding a six-game win streak – is coming together as a team. Following a 2-8 stretch after an 18-0 start, the Orange have emerged like a phoenix from the ashes.
“We learned our identity as a team,” guard Scoop Jardine said. “We were in the hole and had to dig ourselves out. Coach continued to coach us and keep us level-headed throughout the whole losing streak and we knew what we had to do and the things we had to do to overcome that. It think that was the best thing that could have happened to our season because we found our identity.”
With a rematch against the Fighting Kemba Walker’s looming, the Orange will need another balanced game Friday if they hope to stop Connecticut from winning its fourth game in as many days.
With the emergence of their freshman center who was once pegged to be the Freshman of the Year in the Big East conference, Syracuse may be able to do just that.
“I’m excited to give back the support that Syracuse gives to me, so I’m glad I had a great game today and I hope tomorrow to do the same,” Melo said. “(This was) a big step, I started getting my confidence back. Tomorrow is going to be a good game.”