Heading into the 2013-14 season, it was no secret that the strength of the Syracuse Orange would be at the forward positions with senior C.J. Fair and sophomore Jerami Grant. If tonight’s 89-74 win over Fordham was any indication, that hype was extremely well founded.
The pair quickly asserted their will against the overmatched Fordham post players, combining for 26 first half points, with 15 coming from Fair and 11 from Grant, who was playing his first game of the season after sitting out the opener against Cornell. Fair scored in a variety of ways throughout the night, using crafty moves around the basket and stepping out to show a pure shooting stroke both in the mid-range and from long range, while Grant used his explosiveness around the basket and even stepped out to hit a couple of jumpers. Grant is already coveted by NBA scouts, and if he shows he can consistently knock down jump shots, he has a chance to catapult himself into NBA lottery talk in the upcoming draft.
Fair finished the game with a career-best 26 points and added five boards, and Grant recorded a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. If Grant continues at this pace, that lottery talk will begin seeming more and more realistic.
There were two other major pluses for Syracuse fans to take away from the game, coming in the form of contributions from sophomore big man DaJuan Coleman and freshman point guard Tyler Ennis. While Syracuse is clearly set with Fair and Grant at the forward spots, the center position has been a bit murky for the Orange heading into the year. Coleman, a former McDonald’s All-American from nearby Jamesville DeWitt High School, was a pretty major disappointment in his first season in orange. Tonight’s win, however, allowed Coleman to show some flashes of what made him such a highly sought after recruit, as he dominated the offensive glass on his way to scoring 10 points and pulling down 10 boards.
Ennis, on the other hand, was the brightest spot on the perimeter for Syracuse in a game dominated by Jim Boeheim‘s interior players. After a subpar start to his freshman season in which he went 0-for-6 from the field (but dished out seven assists and grabbed eight boards) against Cornell, Ennis put on display just how smooth he can be offensively, using some deceptive quickness and outstanding control of the ball to slice into the lane and score several easy buckets on his way to 16 points and five assists.
Despite the strong play by that quartet of players, there are still some things the Orange will need to work on moving forward, the first being overall consistency. Right now, Syracuse as a whole operates in spurts, and that’s largely dictated by the personnel on the floor. Focusing in on one player in particular, sophomore guard Trevor Cooney followed up a 27-point outburst against Cornell with just two points tonight.
Now, in fairness, his scoring was not needed and he got a lot of rest time as Boeheim played Michael Gbinije and Ron Patterson for extended minutes, meaning the opportunity to duplicate his offensive explosion was not really there. At the same time, after knocking down 7-of-8 three pointers in the season opener, Orange fans were no doubt hoping to see what he could do for an encore and came away disappointed.
What looked like it would be an easy, impressive victory for Syracuse turned into a sloppy, frustrating win for the Orange. It felt like they turned on the cruise control not long after halftime, which led to a second half performance by the Orange that allowed Fordham to chip away and very nearly make it a game late. It was a troubling development down the stretch, as Syracuse seemed to decide playing hard was no longer essential, though the Rams certainly never got the message.
If the Orange want to be a realistic national title challenger, they’ll need to get that sorted out and learn to play a full 40 minutes night in, and night out. Syracuse fans can be happy they got a victory, but chances are they won’t be particularly satisfied with the manner in which the game was won, despite the final margin.