MBB : No sweat: Offense finds groove to snap losing streak
For two days after Syracuse’s 20-point embarrassment on the road to West Virginia, Jim Boeheim put his team on lockdown.
He stuck them in the film room for several hours after each practice and made them watch endless footage of SU’s back-to-back road losses. The players said it was the most film they’d watched all year.
And on Wednesday night, the Orange played like it was just released from projector purgatory.
Against a lowly Rutgers team still hunting for its first conference win, a rejuvenated Syracuse found its groove and got back to what made it successful in non-conference play: playing loose, having fun and making shots. What resulted was an 81-59 victory for the Orange in front of 20,437 at the Carrier Dome and the exhalation of a team from its recent road blues.
‘We needed it bad,’ SU forward Paul Harris said of the win. ‘I think everybody needed it.’
The Scarlet Knights (8-10, 0-5 Big East) fell prey to 60.4 percent shooting from the field by Syracuse, dominance on the boards and a new-look SU point guard Jonny Flynn, who led the team in scoring for the first time since Dec. 22. Donte Greene added 19 points, and Harris finished with 18 points and eight rebounds for a complete Orange victory.
‘When the ball goes in the basket, the game’s always easier,’ Boeheim said. ‘The last two games, even though we didn’t execute maybe as well as we’d like to, we got a lot of the shots that we got tonight. But when the ball doesn’t go in the basket, it’s a tough game. Tonight the ball did go in.’
Rutgers actually had the game knotted at 14, midway through the first half, but from there, Syracuse (13-5, 3-2) switched on its edge and discovered its execution. The Orange turned the draw into a 17-2 run – sparked by dazzling play by Flynn – that stamped the Scarlet Knights out for the rest of the half and set the tone for the game.
Flynn, at the urging of Boeheim, shed his reluctance to shoot the ball and connected on 6-of-9 field goals in the first half to lead SU in scoring. The freshman point guard finished with a game-high 24 points, his highest total since he scored 28 in his debut performance on Nov. 12.
Rutgers had no answer to SU’s zone, which prohibited any penetration, neither through dribble nor pass. The Scarlet Knights were forced to pass around the perimeter until they found a crack they could exploit, which on Wednesday, seemed to come few and far between.
And with little executable fire power on its side (Rutgers came into the game last in the Big East in field goal shooting, assists and 3-point percentage), it was another dismal offensive night for a team that has had its lion’s share.
All the better for Syracuse, which desperately needed a mid-winter confidence boost.
‘After getting blown out by 20 points to West Virginia and 10 by Cincinnati, it feels good to come back and get a 30-point win and have the students cheering you on, and us playing defense, playing as a team out there,’ Greene said.
Even early on in the game Syracuse looked to make an event out of it. Midway through the first half, Flynn motioned to Greene from the top of the key for an alley-oop. But when his pass went high and wide, Greene had to grab it and bring it down in the lane. And with one motion he leapt up again and spun for a 360-degree slam dunk.
Later, with Syracuse ahead by double digits in the second half, Flynn scored a two-handed lay-up on a fast break and let loose a smile directed toward the courtside seats and SU women’s basketball coach Quentin Hillsman, who smiled right back.
‘It kind of reminds me of the beginning of the season,’ Flynn said of his team’s loose play. ‘You know, out there having fun, slapping each other up, throwing ‘oops’ and things like that.’
After starting the game on a 10-2 run, SU had streaks of 17-2, 10-2 and 9-0 at different points throughout the night. Each illustrated the ease and simplicity with which Syracuse seemed to get to the hoop and create offensively.
While Rutgers is clearly not on the same level as No. 25 Villanova or No. 5 Georgetown (SU’s next two opponents), Boeheim was quick not to dismiss any team in the Big East as an automatic win. For his young Orange, each and every win will be contested, whether at home or on the road.
‘Everybody’s good enough to beat us; we know that,’ Boeheim said. ‘We got hammered by two teams. So they’re all good, it doesn’t really matter who you’re playing. For us, everybody we play is tough.’
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