By Sal Capaccio
Some notes and thoughts collected Thursday night from and around Syracuse’s 85-73 win over Florida from the St. Pete Times-Forum, which is actually located in downtown Tampa………
–I saw former Syracuse star John Wallace before the game. He looked good, was happy and talkative, and was sporting his orange gear. He has some business ventures going right now and works with kids on and off the basketball court. Great to see he’s been smart and his life is turning out so well.
–I arrived at the Forum as the second half of the Mississippi State/DePaul game was getting underway. The arena was almost empty. MSU had some fans and family behind their bench area, but other than that, it was all blue and orange. Orange as in “Syracuse and Florida fans who showed up a bit early,” and blue as in “empty blue seats everywhere you looked.”
–Once the main event tipped off, it was still a disappointing crowd. For a Syracuse team that is used to playing its big home games in front of 20,000-plus, the announced crowd of only 9,353 must have felt like a scrimmage. Of the crowd that was there, as usual in southwest Florida, Orange Nation was very well represented. In fact, other than the UF band and student section, it was about a 50/50 split of the two different orange and blues, and maybe even a bit tilted towards a pro-’Cuse crowd.
Let’s get to the action on the court………..
–Florida was, overall, the best team Syracuse has played this year. At least they played the Orange better and were a tougher matchup than any opponent I have seen. They have good ball handlers, good shooters, and play with a lot of energy on the defensive end. Their pressure caused a lot of problems at times for the Orange. But this Syracuse team is just so well balanced, it takes more than being good on the perimeter and knocking down threes to beat them. A couple weeks ago, Syracuse handled the big men of Carolina by beating them on the perimeter with their guards. Thursday in Tampa, the opposite was true. The Gators did a very good job of harassing the Syracuse back court. So the Orange just let their big men go to work, and Florida had no answer for the SU front court. Forwards Rick Jackson, Wes Johnson, and Kris Joseph all wound up with double-doubles.
–Speaking of the Syracuse balance, Rick Jackson (21 points) became the sixth different SU player to lead the team in scoring in a game this season. And the team has played only nine games. Four players were in double-digits in the scoring column in this one (Jackson, Johnson, Joseph, Andy Rautins) and Scoop Jardine was one point away (9) from making it five. Against a good SEC team? That’s some serious balance.
–This team still has to be better from the charity stripe (58.1% in this game). They took 18 more shots from the foul line than Florida, and that helped a lot. It also helped that UF was even worse from the stripe (53.8%). But shooting less than 60% in physical Big East games where both teams will get their cracks for free opportunities will eventually cost this team games they should otherwise win. If it weren’t for Scoop Jardine’s 5 of 6 foul shooting, the rest of the Orange were a miserable 13/25 (52%).
–Wes Johnson needs to be a little more selfish. Maybe a lot more selfish sometimes. He often passed up open looks and open lanes to dish to his teammates. That produced mix results, especially in the first half, where he finished with only 4 points. But when Wesley decided to keep the ball in his hands and take those shots, he also took control of the game. Johnson went for 13 in the second half, most of which came in the last ten minutes of the ball game when his team needed him most.
–Just before the under 12-minute TV timeout in the 2nd half, the Gators made back-to-back 3 pointers to cut the Syracuse lead to four. As the teams came off the court for the timeout, Jim Boeheim was absolutely all over freshman point guard Brandon Triche. I didn’t see Triche on the floor the rest of the game.
–There were a lot more NBA scouts at the game than I usually see at these types of events. The scouts aren’t allowed to talk about specific prospects, so you can save the emails asking me what players they liked. But noteworthy was the fact that most of the scouts weren’t even in their seats until the Syracuse/Florida game started. Once it did, there were a lot of notes being taken, and not one of them left until the affair was over.
–Lots of praise for the Syracuse program by people surrounding the Gators. Listening to the Florida radio postgame show, the announcers talked a lot about how this win would have been great for them, but it was just nice to be able to play a team like Syracuse so close and how the Gators should be encouraged by that headed into conference play. Always nice to hear that kind of respect from the “outside.”
Syracuse’s Kris Joseph on his team’s balance, chemistry and unselfishness:
“Last year we had to rely on too many individuals. This year we can rely on the whole team.”
Florida head coach Billy Donovan on Syracuse:
“I think, just on what I’ve seen of Syracuse, they are capable of winning the national championship……I would be hard-pressed to say there were three or four teams better than them. They can beat you in a lot of ways.”