Big heads, big names, big blocks and big noise filled the Carrier Dome Monday night.
Unofficial technology (i.e. iPhone applications) measured the crowd volume at 105 decibels on press row, somewhere in the neighborhood of the levels recorded in the Louisiana Superdome for the NFC Championship between the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
Loud and proud, that’s the Syracuse Orange fan right now.
Syracuse junior forward Wes Johnson, a native Texan, and Georgetown sophomore center Greg Monroe, a New Orleans product, danced amid some Southern noise at Monday’s Big East contest, grabbing the attention of the fans and opposing defenders.
"The fans were unbelievable,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said following the game. “I've never seen so many students here.”
“When you have a crowd like that it kind of shakes up the other team and gets it going,” proclaimed SU senior Arinze Onuaku.
As if the storied Georgetown/Syracuse rivalry needed more fuel (read The NewsHouse contributor Tyler Dunne’s article in The Daily Orange), two NBA-ready players and the bright lights of national television turned up the wattage.
Both defenses were bent by potent offenses. One (Syracuse) stiffened, the other (Georgetown) cracked.
Johnson and his Orange mates, recipients of a No. 4 ranking earlier in the day, isolated Monroe and shooting guard Chris Wright (seven points on 3-of-10 shooting), topping No. 11 Georgetown, 73-56.
The Hoyas (15-4, 6-3 Big East) are deliberate on offense, and Monday night they easily swung the basketball around the Syracuse zone defense, waiting for holes to open up. The holes were huge in the first 4 minutes: Hoya sharpshooter Austin Freeman drilled a trio of three-pointers as Georgetown scored the first 14 points of the game.
“We weren’t defending and they hit some open shots,” Boeheim said. “You can’t give Georgetown open shots. They’ve got very good shooters.”
Monroe, one of the best passing postmen in recent memory, found open seams on the backside of the Orange zone, catching the ball twice along the baseline. Once the Syracuse defenders raced at him, Monroe fired the ball to the opposite side of the floor and another Freeman jumper at 12:01 made the score 16-8 in favor of the visitors.
Rather than wilt away, the Orange scooped themselves off the floor (literally). Backup point guard Scoop Jardine rattled off six straight points, the last a teardrop off the window, and then found senior guard Andy Rautins for a three-pointer at 7:14. The Orange was down two and the roof of the Dome was threatening to burst open.
“Scoop was tremendous the first half,” Boeheim said. “He made a couple of really good drives."
“We were flat-footed in the beginning so when I got in I tried to be more aggressive and tried to get steals,” explained Jardine. “When I got in we got a couple steals and were able to get into transition.”
Meanwhile, the Orange forwards began to react quicker when Monroe got possession. The lanky sophomore twice caught the ball of the elbow and needed just one hard dribble to get to the basket. After some pointed encouragement from Boeheim (“Some things need to stay within the team”), the Orange made an adjustment, forcing Monroe into three first-half turnovers.
An 8-0 run at the end of the first half started with another Rautins’ three-pointer and was capped by a fast-break layup connection from Triche to wingman Kris Joseph. The 26,508 fans bellowed with approval as the Orange took a 34-29 lead into halftime.
“To dominate a Top-11 team in the country after going down 14 points is quite an effort,” Boeheim said. “I’m proud of these guys.”
The second half swung on that superstar pendulum, and it was Johnson rose up.
After Monroe made his lone dazzling play of the night (a one-handed runner from ten feet), Johnson turned in his highlight on the other end. A high-riser on the hardwood and on the National Player of the Year ballot, Johnson brought the star-watch to a new peak at 10:08 when he took a bounce pass from Rautins and lunged to throw down another monster dunk. Monroe rotated over to challenge him and the two superstars met high above the rim. Johnson powered through Monroe, forcing the ball into the basket while drawing the foul (Monroe’s fourth).
The three-point play gave the Orange a 53-40 lead and essentially ended Monroe’s night; the Georgetown center would foul out of the game at 6:27 with eight points, six turnovers and zero assists (he came in averaging 3.2 helpers per contest).
The Hoyas stayed with its triangle-and-two scheme on defense (man up Johnson and Rautins, apply a three-man zone to the other players), only to see Jardine break it down for an easy deuce. Two dribbles to penetrate the middle and a no-look zip to Joseph produced a lay-up and a 57-42 lead for Syracuse with 9 minutes left.
Monroe got one last chance to score, pump-faking Arinze Onuaku off his feet before stepping through for a right-hand lay-up. Johnson was watching on the other side of the lane and came flying in to reject Monroe’s shot, one of four blocks on the night for the Syracuse junior.
“Monroe’s a gifted athlete, especially (being) left-handed. So (we were) fronting him, anticipating his shot and going in to clean it up for the big guys,” Johnson said of the Orange defensive mindset on the Hoya center. “They did a great job of walling up, getting him in foul trouble.”
Boeheim went a step further: “Wes made a couple of the best blocks I’ve seen around here in a long time.”
Monroe fouled out on the next possession, setting an illegal screen on Rautins. The Dome crowd serenaded the distraught Hoya star on his way to the bench, but their attention, and vocal delirium, quickly returned to the court: Orange forward Rick Johnson dropped off a pass to Johnson for that two-handed slam.
A signal that things are bigger, not in Texas, but upstate New York.