The Syracuse Orange opened the curtain on the Chevrolet Gotham Classic at home in the Carrier Dome versus in-state opponent, the Canisius Golden Griffins.
Syracuse head coach, Jim Boeheim, entered the game with 898 career wins.
Both the Orange squad of this season and Boeheim left with a victory, the Orange extending to 9-0 and Boeheim one step closer to reaching 900 overall wins.
But, the match did not start off as easily as the end score shows. Syracuse allowed Canisius to score first. Later on after taking the lead, the Orange would relinquish it to the Golden Griffins when sophomore forward Josiah Heath completed an old-fashioned three-point play to give Canisius a 32-30 advantage with 2:24 left in the first half.
From there, credit goes to Syracuse's defense, which did not allow Canisius to score for the rest of the half.
The Orange offense would amount five points from a little over two minutes remaining to the close of the opening quarter, getting them back on top of the Golden Griffins, only slightly, at 35-32.
“The first half, we just weren’t as good defensively as we need to be," said Boeheim. "We missed probably 5,6 free throws, missed two, maybe three layups, and you can’t do that. You just can’t do that. We were fortunate that our defense was good enough that we weren’t behind.”
In the second half, Syracuse became more tenacious inside, fighting for offensive rebounds and muscling their weigh in for high-percentage shots. The result? A three-point advantage becoming a more-than-20-point victory, as the Orange reach 9-0 with an 85-61 win.
“Second half, the first ten minutes, our defense got better," Boeheim stated. "I thought it was really good, probably as good as it’s been, and, offensively, we executed better. We got better shots. We got in the lane better. I thought our guards controlled the game, getting in the lane, making plays and I thought that was the difference really."
Here is how each position performed for Syracuse as well as an overall look at both teams' offenses and defenses:
Sophomore guard Michael Carter-Williams did not look like the point guard he has come to be known as this season until later in the game.
In the first half, Carter-Williams, who has made at least nine assists per game in Syracuse's last eight games, only amounted one assist.
However, he did help keep the Orange above the Golden Griffins by adding 10 points for the opening half, making half of the shots he took (3-for-6), including connecting from long range on 1-for-2 shooting.
Carter-Williams would only take three tries from the field in the second half, making one of them, to finish with 12 points. His lack of scoring resulted from his return to the point guard he has been since the second game of the season versus Wagner, as Carter-Williams began finding teammates. His 14 assists now move his streak to eight-straight games with at least nine assists. Carter-Williams has now accumulated 10 or more assists in four-straight matches.
Senior guard Brandon Triche was the top scorer for the backcourt, ending the match with 19 points. Triche did well both inside, attacking the rim, and from long range, connecting from beyond the arc. The senior guard made seven of his 11 shots, including two of his three attempts from distance.
Along with his points, Triche did not forget about his teammates. He aided the Orange to score five baskets that were not his, coming from his assists. Although overlooked due to the above-average assist ability that his backcourt teammate Carter-Williams has shown, Triche having multiple assists in all nine games and at least five assists in each of Syracuse's last four games should not go unnoticed.
Redshirt-sophomore guard Trevor Cooney entered the game with three-straight double-digit scoring performances.
But, in this game, Cooney did not continue that streak, going scoreless in the six minutes he played.
He did, however, join the assist crew in the backcourt, when he found junior forward C.J. Fair for a layup in the first half.
Senior forward James Southerland led Syracuse as well as all players from both teams in scoring with 21 points.
After scoring 35 points on the road against Arkansas, Southerland went on to score four and two points in the next two games, respectively.
Southerland shot 3-for-14 between those two games.
He has since gotten back to double-digit scoring performances, with 14 versus Monmouth to go with his 21 against Canisius.
In those two games, Southerland has made almost 50% of his attempts, shooting 15-for-25.
The senior forward also had his best performance from three-point range since the Arkansas match, shooting 50%, making three of six shots. Before this match-up with Canisius, Southerland had gone 0-for-10 from deep in the previous three games combined.
“He took some time off after Arkansas to do some other things and I think he realized that we’d like him to make some threes, too,” Boeheim joked.
Southerland also got involved on the defensive boards, grabbing five rebounds to tie fellow forward, junior C.J. Fair.
Fair continued his prowess on the defensive glass, achieving at least three defensive rebounds in all nine contests. He has had at least five defensive boards in three-straight games.
As far as scoring, Fair continued his personal point carousel, ending the match with eight points. Fair has scored less than 10 points in four games and more than 10 points in five games this season.
Bonding with fellow forward once again, Fair tied Southerland with the most steals by an Orange player versus the Golden Griffins, with two apiece, showing that both forwards have the ability to step in in areas normally reserved for the backcourt.
Sophomore forward Rakeem Christmas resides atop all Syracuse defenders in blocks this season with 24 through nine games. He has had multiple blocks in eight of those nine games.
In this match-up, Christmas tied fellow frontcourt member, junior center Baye Keita with three blocks.
Christmas also attained a steal on the defensive end.
He was quiet on the boards, with two total rebounds, one on offense and the other on the defensive glass. Christmas' two-rebound performance is his worst this season since he amounted only one against Princeton.
Despite not helping much on the boards, Christmas did reach double-figures with 10 points, making five of his seven tries. He showed his range, connecting by the rim and also on jumpers away from the basket.
"He made a couple really good post moves early," Boeheim shared. "I think defensively, he was a presence out there. I think he’s definitely, he’s really, turned the corner, I think. I think he really is playing well. I think he’s really turned the corner, and I think he’s gonna be a big factor for us.”
Freshman forward Jerami Grant, like fellow newcomer to the court, Cooney, had a quiet outing.
Grant shot 1-for-3, with his only make being the lone shot he took from long range.
He got on the boards offensively for two rebounds, but did not capitalize on either one.
Along with tying Christmas for the most blocks against Canisius, Keita also tied the sophomore forward with a steal of his own.
Though Keita only amounted two points in the game, he aided the team where Christmas did not, on the glass. Keita had six total rebounds, two on offense and four on the defensive end.
Keita has grabbed boards on both sides of the court in eight of nine matches this season, and has had no less than five total rebounds six of those nine games.
Freshman center DaJuan Coleman had the best performance of the three newest players added to the court for Syracuse, amongst himself, Cooney, and Grant. But, Coleman did not get started right away. In the first half, he missed both of the attempts he took, had an assist, and grabbed one offensive rebound.
Coleman remained on the bench at the start of the second half, despite starting the game. But once he made a jumper in the second half, he remained an offensive presence, making a lay-up and then a dunk to follow.
He also aided the Orange by creating opportunities off of his offensive and defensive rebounds, which he had four and two of, respectively. Coleman led all Syracuse players on the offensive glass for the game.
Though he has been inconsistent in scoring, Coleman has shown consistency on the boards, attaining at least five total rebounds in eight of nine matches.
Overall on offense:
The Orange shot better than the Golden Griffins in both halves, by almost 10% in the first half, 46.4% to 36.7%, and close to 30% in the second half, 61.8% to 33.3%, despite taking more shots in the latter half.
From long range, Canisius took more than double the amount of threes that Syracuse attempted. Between the two teams, Syracuse shot better, connecting on eight of their 14 attempts (57.1%), while Canisius was successful on 12 of 30 tries (40%).
The Orange went 4-for-6 in the opening half (66.7%) and 4-for-8 (50%) in the latter half, while the Golden Griffins went 5-for-16 (31.3%) and 7-for-14 (50%) in the first and second halves, respectively, relying heavily on the three as a means to be competitive.
Where 50% looks good from the field, it translates to an unsuccessful outing when that percentage comes at the line, as the Orange made nine of 18 attempts from the charity stripe.
Though the Golden Griffins ended the game with a better percentage from the free throw line (75%), the Orange defense allowed them less attempts, giving them 12 opportunities at the charity stripe.
Syracuse did lead Canisius in team assists, 23 to 11, but not in offensive rebounds, with Canisius topping Syracuse, 16 to 12.
The Golden Griffins also led the Orange in another area, but not one to boast of, committing more turnovers, 19 to 10.
Overall on defense:
In a close contest for defensive boards, Syracuse slightly edged Canisius, 22 to 21.
But, Syracuse did not win the total rebound category for the first time in nine games this season, with Canisius grabbing 37 to their 34.
The Orange came into the game leading the country in rebounds per game with 51.6, while the Golden Griffins were attaining 39 per contest.
Syracuse did get the advantage over Canisius in steals, nine to three, and in blocks, where they had seven and Canisius ended the game without a single swat.
Syracuse will face their second opponent in the Chevrolet Gotham Classic when they host the University of Detroit Mercy Titans on Monday, December 17th, at 7pm ET.
This game carries big weight for the history of Boeheim, as it can potentially be his 900th career win.
But, Boeheim said he is not concentrating on attaining this feat. “Nobody wants to believe me, but I’m thinking nine, now I’m thinking 10,” Boeheim remarked. “I know what happens. I know what’s going on. I’m not stupid, although there’s some people that would argue with that. That just does not matter. This team is the only thing that matters. They don’t care about how many wins that I’ve had. They care about getting the next win and that’s it. Everything is just, does not matter. It really doesn’t.”
“I’m happy I’m still here,” Boeheim continued. “I’m happy I’ve been here this long. When I was 17-years-old I almost went home [the] first year. So, I’m still here.”