The Runner Sports

The Syracuse Orange Are Back From The Dead

Eighteen days ago the Syracuse Orange had an 11-9 record overall and were 3-4 in conference play. For all intents and purposes the season looked over in central New York, and the Orange would be lucky to even make the NIT. However, Jim Boeheim’s squad didn’t give up and since losing at Notre Dame on January 21 the Orange have rattled off five straight ACC wins with each one being more exciting than the last. The key to this success has been on the offensive side of the court. In the first eight games of ACC play, the Orange averaged 64 PPG. However, during their winning streak, Syracuse has averaged 82.2 PPG with Andrew White III leading the way with 25 PPG.

Coming off of back to back losses on the road, Syracuse returned home to play Wake Forest in a must win if the Orange wanted to keep their postseason aspirations alive. After trailing at halftime, 32-29, the Orange offense woke up and poured in 52 points in the second half to take the victory, 81-76. White led the way for the Orange with 27 points and five rebounds. The next game came against a little tougher of an opponent with #6 Florida State coming to town. White had 13 of his 24 points in the first half as the Orange raced out to a 44-26 lead at halftime. In the second half, the Seminoles cut the lead to as little as two on multiple occasions, but couldn’t complete the comeback and Syracuse held on to win, 82-72.

The Orange then traveled down to Raleigh to take on a talented, yet inconsistent North Carolina State team. In a game where defense was optional, the Orange came back from 16 down with eight minutes to play to force overtime on an unforgettable sequence of events. Dennis Smith Jr. recorded his second triple-double of the season and Maverick Rowan had a career-high 31 points for the Wolfpack, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Orange’s two grad transfers’ stellar performances. White continued his hot streak with 28 points, but it was the point guard John Gillon who willed the Orange to victory. Gillon scored 43 points on 13 shots while going 9-10 from behind the arc and 14-14 from the free throw line. He also led the team in assists with nine versus four turnovers in 44 minutes of action.

Syracuse didn’t have long to enjoy the victory with a huge home game against the #9 Virginia Cavaliers up next. The last time these two teams met was in the Elite Eight of last year’s NCAA Tournament with the Orange mounting a furious comeback to stun the Cavs. Last Saturday’s game almost looked like a replay at times, with Virginia using stifling defense to jump out to a 12-point halftime lead before the Orange fought back to take a 66-62 victory. Both the white-hot Andrew White and freshman Tyus Battle tallied 23 points in the victory as the duo carried Syracuse on the offensive side of the ball. The game carried extra meaning for Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who won his 1,000th career game. However, the NCAA vacated 101 wins from his total due to lack of institutional control, so in the eyes of the NCAA, it was win 899.

The Orange followed up the victory over Virginia with a trip down to Clemson for a game that could make or break their season. The Tigers and the Orange battled all game long with neither team able to completely pull away from the other. Tyler Lydon hit a pair of free throws with 37 seconds left to tie the game before Donte Grantham replied with a 15-foot jump shot to give the Tigers a lead with seven seconds remaining. However, the Orange would not be denied and Tyus Battle hit a three as the buzzer sounded to lift the Orange to an 82-81 victory.

Syracuse entered the season as a top-20 team after making a run to last year’s Final Four. However, chemistry has been an issue all season long with so many new faces in their rotation. Now that Boeheim has figured out his rotation, his team is peaking at the right time and has as much momentum as anyone in the nation. Jim Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone is normally a nightmare when everyone is on the same page and severely limits opposing passing lanes. It has been a struggle this year on the defensive side with four guys in their first year of the program starting along with a sophomore. If the defense can improve to even just average, this Syracuse team could surprise some people come March.

Even with their recent streak, Syracuse still isn’t a lock for the Big Dance and will need to find a way to win three, maybe four more games before the ACC Tournament to feel completely safe. They will travel to Pittsburgh next to take on the last-place Panthers who have struggled to stop anyone under first-year head coach Kevin Stallings. Syracuse will also face both #4 Louisville and a pesky Georgia Tech twice in their final five games with a home game against #18 Duke sandwiched between them.

Sterling Thomas

Sterling Thomas

Born in Littleton, Colorado, Sterling moved to the heart of ACC country when he was young and developed a deep passion for basketball.

Fast forward to college where Sterling had the opportunity to work with the Florida Gulf Coast University basketball team under Andy Enfield and was apart of the 15-seed Eagles that made a historic run to the Sweet Sixteen and was dubbed Dunk City.
Sterling Thomas