Men's basketball: Orange overcomes tough Hampton zone to win second game of season

Strong performance in paint sparks the SU offense in easy victory.

Syracuse forward Michael Gbinije drained a jumper and drew a foul with only two seconds left on the shot clock late in the second half to give the No. 23 Orange a 13-point lead over the Hampton Pirates. 

The 22,848 fans at the Carrier Dome erupted, but it was one of the few times during Sunday’s game they were able to do so. 

Syracuse won its second game of the regular season, pulling away from Hampton 65-47, but the Pirates proved to be a tough test. They applied a 2-3 zone that disrupted the Orange’s offensive rhythm throughout the contest. 

“The first time you play against a zone for a whole game like that, you’re a little tentative,” head coach Jim Boeheim said. “We didn’t attack it quite as well as we would have liked to.”  

The Orange made 12 of 29 attempts from the field in the first half and continued to struggle from behind the arc, making only three of 12 shots.  

Redshirt-junior guard Trevor Cooney has yet to calibrate his stroke, as he finished the night two of seven from three-point range.   

However, the Orange was able to hold a lead for all but one minute in the first half thanks to a strong performance by center Rakeem Christmas, who scored eight points in the first five minutes of the game.  

Coming off Friday’s opener in which he scored a career-high 21 points, Christmas reached another personal best in Sunday’s contest by grabbing 16 rebounds. He finished the night with 15 points, giving him his first double-double of the season and the second of his career. 

“Coach wanted me to get the ball and assert myself early in the game and that’s what I tried to do,” Christmas said. 

Freshman Chris McCullough also added seven points in the first half for the Orange. He finished with 13, making him the only other Orange player to score in double digits. 

The Orange ended the first half on a positive note, as Tyler Roberson drained a pull-up jumper as time expired, putting the Orange ahead 35-27 heading into the break. 

While Syracuse was not able to find a consistent offensive flow, the team’s defensive effort was solid for most of the game. It held the Pirates to only 20 points in the second half. The Orange also forced 15 turnovers during the game. 

“We made a lot of defensive stops and got more aggressive on the boards,” McCullough said.  

But the Pirates refused to go away. With ten minutes left, Quinton Chievous, who led the Pirates with 17 points, delivered a thunderous slam that cut the Syracuse lead to 45-38. 

However, the Orange offense finally clicked as the game was winding down. It went on an 8-0 run after its lead was cut to six, highlighted by Gbinije’s three-point play.  He finished the night with nine of the 17 Orange points off the bench. 

“(Gbinije’s) been playing very well in practice and it’s good to see him make those plays at the end,” Boeheim said. “He’s certainly capable of it.” 

Gbinije also added a three-pointer with 1:07 left to put the game on ice.  

Syracuse’s next game is against California at Madison Square Garden on Thursday at 9 p.m.

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