By Jon Rothstein
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Scoop Jardine threw the outlet pass with the hopes of a fast break opportunity. Instead it hit Kris Joseph in the back of the head.
Accident? For sure.
A careless turnover? It went right along with the theme of Friday’s NIT finals at Madison Square Garden.
But after a timeout by Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins, Jim Boeheim and Syracuse gathered themselves and reset their approach.
Trailing by six points midway through the second half, the Orange began to apply relentless full-court pressure that allowed them to rally and come away with a 69-63 win over the Cardinal en route to a Preseason NIT title.
“I thought we played 40 minutes of good defense and 35 minutes of bad offense,” Boeheim said. “We have a long way to go offensively.”
The second half resurgence was ignited by Joseph. After struggling the majority of the first half, the 6-foot-5 wing used a well-versed offensive array of moves to score around the basket and push the Orange past a pesky Stanford team. Joseph finished with 18 points and nine rebounds to earn the tournament’s MVP honors.
“He’s doing the things he needs to do to help us win,” Boeheim said of Joseph.
Much like during their win over Virginia Tech on Wednesday night, Syracuse relied on a perimeter of Joseph, Brandon Triche, and Dion Waiters to spark a surge in the last 20 minutes.
“It’s our best offensive group,” Boeheim said of the trio.
Despite the offensive struggles, Syracuse still showed why it’s one of the nation’s most highly touted teams. Defensively the Orange were a nightmare in their vintage 2-3 zone, mostly in part because of the presence of sophomore big man Fab Melo, whose taken a major jump in his second season of college basketball.
“I knew when he was in better condition that he’d be able to move better defensively,” Boeheim said of Melo, who finished with six points, nine rebounds, and three blocks in 32 minutes.
A 6-0 start in November is nothing new for Syracuse, who will host Florida Friday night in the SEC/Big East Challenge.
THIS AND THAT:
– UCONN’s loss to Central Florida in the Bahamas might be the best thing that happens to the Huskies. Jim Calhoun’s team hadn’t suffered a defeat since before the Big East Tournament in March and getting punched in the mouth by a team from Conference-USA might be the best way to refocus this group as they prepare for the Big East. Getting freshman combo guard Ryan Boatright back will also help after he served a brief suspension.
– There are still question marks about Depaul’s half court offense and their ability to be consistently competitive against high level competition but the Blue Demons have two very good pieces in sophomores Brandon Young and Cleveland Melvin. The duo combined for 49 points in the Blue Demons win over Texas Tech on Friday at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando.
– St. Joseph’s is going win plenty of games this season in the Atlantic-10. Despite their narrow, double-overtime loss on Wednesday night to Iona, the Hawks have two terrific guards in Tay Jones and Langston Galloway and a hidden gem in freshman floor general in Chris Wilson.
– Speaking of the Gaels, they’re must see TV. If you haven’t seen them yet, find a way. Tim Cluess’ team is next on deck Monday at home against NEC favorite LIU.
– Marshall’s win at Cincinnati puts the rest of the nation on notice that the Thundering Herd are for real. Tom Herrion’s group is much improved on the backboards thanks to JUCO transfer Dennis Tinnon, who tallied 14 points and 14 rebounds against the Bearcats, who simply aren’t the same team from last year because they lack the depth they had a season ago.
– Anyone else see a little Rashad McCants in Iowa State’s Chris Allen?
– It would be hard sell for someone to get me to believe that there are five point guards in the Big East more talented than Providence’s Vincent Council. The junior is incredibly underrated and should gain more exposure if the Friars can surprise people in Ed Cooley’s first season in the conference.
– What has happened to Fairfield’s Derek Needham? Two years ago, the speedy point guard from Chicago was lightning in the open court and attacked the rim as soon as he stepped on the floor. After a disappointing sophomore year, Needham seems resigned to being a jump shooter as a junior. If the Stags are to challenge Iona in the MAAC, Needham needs to get back to being himself, something right now he doesn’t resemble.
– UNLV is a much more difficult team to prepare for this season thanks to the return of Kendall Wallace. After missing last season with a knee injury, Wallace has come back to give the Rebels a legit outside shooting threat to complement their already effective dribble drive ability.