Trevor Cooney leads Orange in second half rally over Cornell

Cooney made 7-of-8 from behind the arc to help the Orange win its first game of the season.

Syracuse defeated Cornell 82-60 in its season opener tonight behind a stellar shooting performance from Trevor Cooney. The redshirt sophomore led all scorers with a career-high 27 points, shooting 10-for-12 from the field, including 7-for-8 from three-point range.

“We did a good job of finding Trevor and he bailed us out when we really needed him in the first half when we had nothing,” Head Coach Jim Boeheim said.

Photo: Andrew Renneisen
Syracuse's Michael Gbinije with a behind-the-back pass in SU's 82-60 victory over Cornell

The No. 8 Orange (1-0) shot 44.8 percent from the field and made just 1-for-5 shots from the free throw line in the first half. Cornell (0-1) took a 38-32 lead into the locker room behind 20 first-half points from Nolan Cressler. Syracuse was able to stay within six thanks to two three-pointers from Cooney in the last two minutes of the half.

“Those were two monster shots,” Boeheim said.

Boeheim added that Cooney’s teammates did a good job of looking for him, as he had the hot hand throughout the game. Seven of Cooney’s 10 made field goals were assisted by a teammate.

“My teammates found me in great spots where I was able to get my feet set and knock down shots,” Cooney said. “When I hit the first couple in the second half, I really felt it.”

The student section chanted Cooney’s name on multiple occasions and received a standing ovation from the whole crowd when he was subbed out as he carried the Orange out of its first half slump and into a strong second half in which they outscored the Big Red 50-to-22.

Lost in Cooney’s barrage of three-pointers was C.J. Fair’s performance. He was second on the team in scoring with 19 points, shooting 6-for-11. But he also forced the action a bit, turning the ball over a team-high seven times.

“C.J.’s trying to do a little too much,” Boeheim said. “He has to play his game.”

The pre-season ACC Player of the Year faded into the background as Cooney took over, but Fair still managed to quietly pad his stats. Fair said he would’ve liked to have made more mid-range jumpers, and that the rest of his game would have fallen into place had he done so.

“They were playing me for the drive and sending double teams sometimes,” Fair said, which limited his versatility on offense.

Rakeem Christmas chipped in with 12 points and four rebounds, shooting 4-for-5 from both the field and the foul line. He was visibly aggressive near the basket, ripping away boards and dunking with authority. Christmas also added a key block early in the second half as the Orange defense began to clamp down on Cornell during a stretch when Syracuse held the Big Red to just five points in the open five minutes of the half.

The Orange held Cornell to just 36-percent shooting from the field in the second half (9-for-25). The Big Red were able to get similar looks to the ones they had in the first half, but just couldn’t get shots to fall. That was especially the case from beyond the arc, where Cornell shot 18.8 percent (3-for-16).

The difference in the second half, Boeheim said, was the Orange took away the high post pass and closed out on shooters better.

“When you don’t move on defense, it doesn’t matter what defense you play,” Boeheim said in regards to the team’s lackadaisical first half effort, when Cornell jumped out to a 10-4 lead within the first six minutes.

Cooney agreed that the defensive intensity increased in the latter 20 minutes.

“Our defense wasn’t good in the first half; we came out real lazy, not moving,” he said. “In the second half that was totally different, and that’s what got us the game.”

Cooney himself displayed quick hands on defense with a team-high four steals, converting one turnover into a dunk at the other end. Still, it was his long distance shooting that made the difference. He said knowing that he has more responsibility this season and doesn’t have to worry about being pulled quickly are strong motivators.

“Knowing that you don’t have to look over your shoulder is big,” he said.

Instead of looking over his shoulder for a quick substitution, Cooney put the team on his shoulders.

“I just know that if I get double-teamed, Trevor’s always moving so I can find him open,” Fair said.

Point guard Tyler Ennis had a rough shooting night (1 point, 0-for-6 field goal shooting) but had no problem finding open teammates like Cooney, dishing out seven assists.

“If I have guys like Trevor that are hot, I have no problem not scoring,” Ennis said.

While the freshman was disappointed in the lack of scoring in his first career game, he had a team-high eight rebounds to go along with his solid ball distribution.

“I think I played well other than scoring the ball,” Ennis said. “I think I missed some shots I usually make, but I just have to continue to be aggressive. There are a lot of things I can do other than scoring.”

Sophomore forward Jerami Grant was notably absent tonight. Although he did not play, Grant sat on the bench with the team dressed in street clothes. Boeheim said he had to miss one game, but would not specify why.

The Orange will next take the court Tuesday at home against Fordham.

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