If you’re a Syracuse fan, are you supposed to be impressed?
Or a little depressed?
SU’s 59-44 first-round NCAA tournament basketball victory over Stephen F. Austin today raised as many questions as it answered.
The first half, obviously, was an SU bonanza. The Orange shot extremely well – 11 of their 15 made baskets were layups and dunks, which helps – played tremendous defense out of their 2-3 zone, and forced Matt Kingsley, Stephen F. Austin’s leading scorer and the Southland Conference player of the year, to the bench in total befuddlement. Josh Alexander, SFA’s other big star and a former conference player of the year, wasn’t much of a factor, either, making just four of 20 shots and scoring eight points.
Part of SU’s success was the result of the Lumberjacks’ seeming awe at even being in the NCAA tournament, which they were for the first time. They didn’t make a field goal until more than seven minutes into the game, and they shot an astoundingly bad 25 percent for the 40 minutes. Not all of that was a credit to the SU defense. The Lumberjacks missed many uncontested shots, shots that looked off from the moment they left the shooters’ hands.
SU’s Jonny Flynn, meanwhile, continued his sensational play of the last nine games, hitting pull-up jumpers, driving the lane and either scoring or dumping off for easy baskets. Again, as many guys as the Orange have who can score, Flynn is the quarterback of that team, and it is increasingly obvious that the Orange are as good as he is in any given game.
And, in that first half, he was very, very good.
The second half was a different story. Yes, the Orange had a 38-22 lead at the half, and it sure didn’t look as if they were going to be threatened, but you still have to play your best. The Orange didn’t. That probably was more the result of mental fatigue from their big effort in the Big East tournament. That’s speculation, to be sure, but that’s the way it looked. Flynn lost the ball five times in the second half. Why do you think that happened?
SU shot made just 10 of 31 shots in the second half, turned the ball over 16 times – SFA turned it over just six times in the game - and scored just 21 points in the last 20 minutes. The Orange, normally a pretty good 3-point shooting team, also made just two of 16 shots from long range in the game. Orange coach Jim Boeheim said afterward it’s all about winning the game and moving on, but you know he was not happy with what he saw in the second half.
It’s that second half that might leave you a little depressed. Will the Orange get past that, or will there be a carryover? SU will play either Arizona State or Temple Sunday, and no matter how good or bad either team is, they will not be wet-behind-the-ears newcomers to the NCAA tourney.
SU did miss Kristof Ongenaet’s energy and competitiveness a bit – he was on the bench with a stomach ailment – but got great work on the boards from Paul Harris and Rick Jackson to thoroughly dominate in that area. The Orange will need that kind of work again Sunday, plus better shooting and much better control of the ball.
The Orange are very talented, and a win is a win, but they can’t afford 20 minutes of sub-par basketball in any game from here on in. Every game is different. SU has to make sure its second 20 minutes Sunday are different, and different in a better way, than they were today.