Men's basketball: Balanced SU offense holds off Boston College

With Rakeem Christmas battling foul trouble, the Orange's secondary scoring options led the team to a rebound win.

For 17 minutes of Syracuse’s game against Boston College, Orange center Rakeem Christmas found himself in an unfamiliar place:  the SU bench.  

Syracuse’s leading scorer couldn’t escape foul trouble on Tuesday night, but his teammates stepped up in his absence.  Four other Orange players scored in double figures to lead the Orange (14-5, 5-1 Atlantic Coast) to a 69-61 victory over the Eagles (8-9, 0-5 Atlantic Coast). 

“It was the first game in a long time Rak got in really big foul trouble, but I thought Mike and Trevor really took over at the end of the first half."
— Jim Boeheim

“Guys got assertive. They didn’t put their head down,” freshman guard Kaleb Joseph said. “Everybody kind of rallied around that, and I think we grew up a little bit as a team tonight.” 

Joseph played one of his best games of the season, dishing out seven assists and joining Michael Gbinije, Tyler Roberson, and Trevor Cooney in double digits. 

After picking up his fourth foul early in the second half, Christmas was sent to the bench with 16:12 left in the game. But the Orange still found ways to score without its premier big man. 

Cooney hit a three with 14:39 to go to put Syracuse up 43-31. Gbinije, who led Syracuse with 17 points, followed with another shot from behind the arc, increasing the Orange’s lead to 15. 

Gbinije and Cooney also paced the Orange during the closing minutes of the first half. With 5:11 left, Gbinije made a layup to give Syracuse a nine-point lead.  Cooney extended the lead to 18 when he put back Gbinije’s missed three just before time expired. 

“It was the first game in a long time Rak got in really big foul trouble, but I thought Mike and Trevor really took over at the end of the first half,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said. 

While Cooney and Gbinije took over at the end of the first, the start of the game was a different story. Syracuse went almost five minutes without making a field goal, while BC started off hot. Aaron Brown, who led the Eagles with 21 points, hit his first three shots from behind the arc. 

“You give them three three’s to start the game… that’s not the way to start the game,” Boeheim said. “It’s inexcusable.” 

But things changed quickly midway through the first, as BC went scoreless for seven minutes.  Brown ended the drought with a jumper with 5:47 left in the half – but it was the Eagles’ only bucket in the paint during the period. Olivier Hanlan, BC’s leading scorer, was 0-for-7 from the field and 0-for-2 from three-point range at the break. 

The Orange went on a 9-0 run during the Eagles’ scoreless stretch. Tyler Roberson nearly overthrew a pass down low to Christmas, but Christmas pulled it in and finished to put Syracuse up 17-13. He ended the first half with nine points, but also had three fouls.  

He fouled out with 1:51 left in the game, and the Eagles nearly mounted a huge comeback. 

Syracuse allowed the Eagles to close in by missing eight free throws down the stretch. Cooney, a 78-percent free-throw shooter this season, accounted for three of those eight misses. 

“We have to do better at it.  We have to make foul shots at the end, including myself,” Cooney said. 

Dimitri Batten threw down a slam with just under a minute left in the game to cut the Syracuse lead to six. However, that was as close as BC would get to a comeback.

Despite Syracuse’s struggles from the line, Joseph sank two shots with 16 seconds left to give Syracuse an eight-point lead and seal the victory.  

Next up, Syracuse will battle Miami on Saturday at the Carrier Dome. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m.

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