Syracuse fans have been waiting for a couple of years now for Trevor Cooney to live up to his reputation as a lethal outside shooter, and the redshirt sophomore finally lived up to his billing as he helped the Orange come back from a surprisingly large first half deficit against Cornell in the team’s first game of the season.
Thanks to some ridiculous first half shooting by Cornell, the Big Red got out to as much as a 14-point lead and took a six-point lead into halftime. But thanks to the hot shooting of Cooney and the surprisingly steady play of backup guard Michael Gbinije, who ran the point for the first time in a meaningful game, Syracuse stormed back and cruised to an 82-60 win.
So, what were some of the reasons the Orange fell into such a big hole, and what allowed them to battle back and run away with the win? Well, for starters, Cornell’s Nolan Cressler was almost unguardable in the first half. Cressler was 7-of-11 from the field and 3-of-6 from long range, scoring 20 points in the opening half. Syracuse’s zone just could not contain him in the first 20 minutes of the season, which to an extend can be attributed to the fact that the Orange were breaking in two brand new starters at the top of the two-three in Tyler Ennis and Cooney.
The second half was a completely different story, however. The Orange got some stellar play from Gbinije while Ennis struggled in his first real college game, and Cooney was unconscious from the field on his way to 27 points, hitting 10-of-12 shots overall and an absurd 7-of-8 three pointers. C.J. Fair was his usual steady self with 19 points, but was surprisingly ineffective on the boards, hauling in just three caroms and uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball with seven turnovers.
One of the biggest factors, other than Cooney, was the play of Gbinije. Ennis seemed to have a tough time adjusting to his first official game as the team’s point guard, and Gbinije, who had struggled as a floor general in the preseason, handed out five assists with no turnovers and also scored six points coming off of the bench. In all, it was a pretty strong debut for Gbinije, a transfer from Duke, and the kind of debut from Ennis that he would probably prefer to forget. Well, other than the fact that he somehow managed to grab a game-high eight rebounds.
Some of the biggest things to take away from the victory for Syracuse are Cooney’s terrific performance, as well as a solid overall game from Rakeem Christmas, who scored 12 points while hitting 4-of-5 from the field and 4-of-5 from the free throw line. After struggling to shut down Cornell from the perimeter in the first half — the Big Red hit 7-of-16 threes — the defense tightened up after Jim Boeheim no doubt lit into his team in the locker room, limiting Cornell to a 3-of-16 performance from deep after the break. Cressler, after scoring 20 in the first, was held to just three points in the second half.
Overall, the first half is one Syracuse fans would no doubt rather forget. The second half, however, was a fantastic performance as they outscored Cornell 50-22, shot 63 percent from the field and hit 5-of-7 threes as a team. If the Orange turn in more performances like the second 20 minutes, and fewer like that opening half, Syracuse fans are going to be in for a very fun ride this year.