Demetris Nichols had an outstanding first half of the game. His confidence seemed high, and for at least one game, he shook his career long struggle in Big East play to look like a legit star player. Nichols had one of those games where he seemed to make every shot, and even when he took a couple ill-advised shots, he still made the basket. Five of six from three point range is a very nice day. Special congrats to Nichols who joined the Syracuse 1000 point club today (always nice to get a personal accolade on a day your team wins).
Nichols was somewhat quiet the second half, but there really was no need for more heroic efforts from him as the Orangemen were pretty comfortable in the lead most the time. It seemed they solved their season long problem of starting the second half slow, as they came out firing, and quickly put Nova away to start the half. I hope that’s a trend we see continue.
Darryl Watkins had a silent but outstanding game, basically doing everything required of him. Some outstanding defense, and making every basket he tried (four for four). He could have rebounded more, but his teammates picked that up.
The big man on the day was Terrence Roberts, and what a game he had. 17 points and 14 rebounds for the big man. And that only tells part of the story. For the first time in a long while he seemed to do a lot of the little things right. He was handling the ball relatively well, made some nice interior passes and kick outs, and generally making the right play (he took an ill advised three point shot with plenty of time left on the clock; that’s a shot TRob should not ever take, the Rutgers game from last year the rare exception).
The most amazing thing about Roberts has been his free throw shooting transformation the past few weeks. Roberts, as I’ve well documented before, is statistically the worst free throw shooter in Syracuse history. He went 5-5 this afternoon, and 1-1 against Marquette the other night. He’s now gone 11-12 from the line in the last five games he’s played. Roberts is now 30-60 from the free throw line this year, up to 50%, and he’s raised his career record to 144-299, or 48.1%. How does a player who is so bad at the free throw line for 3 ½ years suddenly turn into Gerry McNamara at the line? Hypnosis? Has his knee injury affected his stroke in a positive way? Pure luck?
Eric Devendorf did not do much scoring today, but his playmaking was nice. He broke down Nova’s defense well, and didn’t seem to force too many bad plays, and ended up with seven assists. Down the stretch he did force some shots, but I think having him run the clock down and drive to the hoop when we have a lead is a smart play for Syracuse, and one where the result is a forced shot is an acceptible risk. More often than not Devo will get fouled or make the basket, and the key at that point of the game is to eat clock.
Andy Rautins filled his role nicely on the three point play, making three of six, and scoring 11 points in 21 minutes. Overall, if the Orange play this way on a regular basis, their going to win a lot of big games. I think the lack of size from Villanova helped Syracuse, especially on the interior passing, and that may not be an advantage the Orange will always have. But you can’t criticize the Orange for taking advantage of a mismatch situation; if the passes are there, take them!
Syracuse ran the fast break well today, and go the outlet passes to the right players quickly. The switch to man-to-man seemed to make a difference today. I think Villanova’s personnel had a lot to do with that. Watkins didn’t need to worry too much about the play down low, and that helped everyone rotate well.
I only have a few negative observations for the game. 20 turnovers is far too many; this team just seems to have a set number of sloppy plays in them, regardless of who they are playing. Nova had only 12 turnovers; it would be nice to see the Orange have forced more out of the Wildcats. Then again, when you have a large lead, at home, you’re going to play more conservative on defense, and make the other team force the action.
Josh Wright seemed to break the press well, and I think the Wildcats probably should have abandoned it. It’s likely a staple of their game, so that would be unlikely, but it seemed ineffective against the Orange. Wright did make some poor decisions in the second half, and Boeheim pulled him for most of the stretch play. I’m not sure if Boeheim was unhappy with Wright’s play and wanted to send him a message, or if it simply was giving Wright an extended rest.
I know a lot of fans love Paul Harris. He hustles on every play, and has some amazing physical talents. But he looked very spastic on the court today, like he was totally lost on the court. Offensively he doesn’t seem to be adding anything at all to the team, and on defense when they were in the man-to-man defense, he seemed to stray from his man a few too many times (I don’t know if that was by design or not). I do love watching him grab a defensive rebound; he takes off down the court immediately and pushes the action. Hopefully Harris is a coachable player and the coaching staff is able to harness and mold that talent.