Sometimes, a new look takes some getting used to.
This was the case for No. 2 Syracuse (28-1, 15-1) on Wednesday night. The Orange overcame an early deficit to defeat South Florida Bulls (17-11, 10-5), 56-48, in the Carrier Dome while wearing new Nike Hyper Platinum uniforms for the first and only time this season.
It was an ugly start for the Orange, who shot a dismal 2-of-14 from the field in the first 10 minutes of the game. Sophomore forward C.J. Fair scored the first five points for Syracuse, who were down by 13 points early in the game. The Bulls' slow pace made it difficult for the Orange to stay in their usual 2-3 zone, as they did not shoot the ball until the shot clock had dipped below five seconds on every possession. Making matters worse was USF's defense, which did not allow Syracuse into the paint, forcing the Orange to shoot low-percentage shots from the outside.
“We didn’t get off to a good start, and they took control of the game,” SU coach Jim Boeheim said after the game.
A crucial timeout by Boeheim at the 9:33 mark in the first half stopped a 14-2 run by the Bulls, allowing the Orange to return to the team’s normal fast-paced play. Sophomore guard Dion Waiters made a skilled cut to the basket and scored the first non-Fair points of the game. Fair then slammed home a dunk at the 8:40 mark that inspired a 17-0 Syracuse run, all the way to halftime. During the run, the Orange got its first lead of the game at 21-20 after senior guard Scoop Jardine hit his second three-pointer of the night, with 2:52 remaining. Waiters finished things up, converting a three-point play to bring the SU lead to 24-20 by halftime.
“We were able to close out the half, despite our poor start,” senior guard Kris Joseph said.
The run would continue into the second half, as sophomore center Fab Melo opened things up with a three-point play off an alley-oop from Jardine. Syracuse would score the next six points, capping off an impressive 27-0 run that spanned 10 minutes and brought the SU lead to 33-20, with 17:57 left in the game. USF failed to score a basket until the 17:29 mark of the second half, when Bulls guard Anthony Collins stole the ball from junior guard Brandon Triche and Hugh Robertson scored the next basket.
But the 13-point Syracuse lead would only hold USF for so long. The Bulls returned to their original strategy, slowing the game down and cutting the Orange lead to just five, with 13:46 left in the game.
The game of runs continued, as Waiters and Joseph led a 7-0 Syracuse run, giving the Orange a 47-35 lead with 9:30 remaining in the game. But then USF came charging back with their own 9-0 run, bringing the Bulls within a single point of the Orange, with six minutes remaining.
“Basketball is a game of runs,” Joseph said. “That’s what’s going to happen. We got the W and that’s what’s important.”
During that stretch by the Bulls, Collins shred the Syracuse zone. The freshman guard scored four points and tallied three assists during the run, on the way to a double-double performance.
“He’s a good player, a really good player,” Boeheim said. “I was really impressed. The only shot he missed was a forced three-pointer.”
Collins' performance was not enough to save the Bulls, who were only able to score one more field goal before the end of the game. Syracuse finished the game on a 9-2 run, resulting in a 56-48 victory for the Orange.
“We find the way to win games,” Jardine said. “And we continue to try and get better.”
Jardine finished the night with a team-high 15 points and four assists.
Although the Orange won the game, they shot dismally from the floor. As a team, Syracuse shot 35 percent from the field on 19-55 shots. Joseph was especially bad, shooting 29 percent from the floor on 5-17 shots for 12 points.
"I played terrible the whole game,” Joseph said. “But there’s something coach told me, ‘Great players forget about everything that happened, and you just keep playing.’ I try to block everything out of my mind that happened.”
Despite his poor offensive performance, Joseph’s six rebounds were key in the victory.
“The game came down to Kris making two unbelievable rebound efforts inside to get the ball back,” Boeheim said. “You just got to find a way to make a big play, and he did.”
Although the Orange have had consistently slow starts in the past three games, Boeheim remains unconcerned about his team’s lackluster opening play.
“We’ve been in these games all year, and our veteran guys have made plays coming down the stretch for us, and that’s how you win these games,” Boeheim said.
The team’s inability to rebound the ball offensive continues to concern Boeheim. In Wednesday night’s victory, the Orange were outperformed 20-29 in terms of rebounds.
“I’m still very disappointed in our offensive rebound margin,” Boeheim said. “We are not getting enough offensive rebounds when we are driving."
Still, Boeheim said that steals and blocked shots are what has allowed Syracuse to overcome the rebounding deficit.
Syracuse only has two games left in regular season play. Their next game is at the University of Connecticut, where the Huskies are looking to make a late-season run, trying to propel into the NCAA tournament. Tipoff time is scheduled for 9:00 p.m.