With only four games in 21 days due to finals and Christmas, the #2 Syracuse Orange could have been forgiven if they were a little stale coming out of the gate vs. High Point University Friday night. And, they were. After another slow start, the Orange took care of the Panthers in a businesslike fashion on their way to a 75-54 home court victory.
Here is my report card from courtside:
Head of the Class
Tyler Ennis: 10 points, 9 assists, 5 steals, 4 rebounds… and only 2 turnovers in 29 minutes. Most players would kill to be good at ONE skill in major college basketball. Ennis seems to be able to do everything equally well. Friday night he keyed the Orange when they pulled away from High Point in the second half, and it was clear that when he was on the bench Syracuse’s offense struggled to get anything other than a contested 18-footer. We had an idea that this would be the case before the season started, but SU’s lack of offensive punch with Ennis out of the game once again proves his overall worth to the team.
I think what impresses me the most about Ennis is how he ends up having such a great game with very little flash. That’s not to say he doesn’t make memorable plays - his first dunk of the season and layup/steal/layup combo Friday night were definitely two of the highlights of the game. But there’s just a quiet excellence about him that I think causes him to be overlooked by many observers outside of upstate New York. That has already started to change, and his name will really pick up steam if he keeps up this kind of output against ACC competition.
Trevor Cooney: I was going to say that Trevor Cooney had another Trevor Cooney night from the floor, but he was even better than that. After his 0-fer at St. John’s, Cooney lit up the Carrier Dome for 17 points on 5-6 from three and 6-7 overall. He would have had two more, but a nice baseline drive in the second half was wiped out by a questionable charge call.
It’s really remarkable how much different of a player Cooney is compared to last season. It’s like he’s a totally different guy, and he attributes much of it to the confidence of knowing that he is going to get steady minutes and doesn’t have to look over his shoulder every time he makes a mistake. Imagine that.
Jerami Grant: 6-6 from the free throw line. 10 points overall in 17 minutes. He even canned a face-up 17 footer in the first half. This guy is going to be insane once he puts it all together in the same game.
Stay After School
Jerami Grant’s Ankle: The Syracuse crowd gasped when Grant rolled his left ankle stepping on a High Point player’s foot midway through the second half. I still can’t believe the refs didn’t stop the game so he could at least get off of the court without getting trampled. After the game, he said he felt a little sore, but probably could have played if he needed to. He was standing on both feet in the locker room with no ice or tape or anything, so it couldn’t have been that bad. But for a few fleeting moments, SU fans were holding their collective breath hoping the season didn’t go up in flames.
SU's Perimeter Defense: We’ve been here before. A smaller, quicker foe that is severely outmatched athletically bombs away from the perimeter in the hopes of keeping the game close. And once again, it worked - at least for a while. High Point shot 8-20 from three for the game (40%), but were well above 50% for most of the first half. In the second half SU applied more pressure and built up a 26-3 run that broke the game open, but if some opponent gets hot AND can match SU’s size and athleticism the Orange may find themselves in a hole they can’t press their way out of.
Final Grade: B-
I’m sorry, I can’t go any higher on this grade. SU was neck-and-neck with a 3-6 team from the Big South Conference for the entire first half, and a good portion of the second. Eventually SU’s raw size and speed won out, but it was only after they realized High Point wasn’t going to roll over. We can chalk it up to looking ahead to Villanova, or to Christmas vacation, or whatever, but if SU doesn’t learn to bring it for 40 minutes each and every game there will be some long nights ahead very soon.
For more details on the game and Jim Boeheim’s postgame news conference, check out my Twitter feed.