Men's basketball: Shoddy free-throw shooting dooms Orange in loss to Miami

Key misses by Rakeem Christmas and Michael Gbinije down the stretch allow the Hurricanes to escape with another conference victory.

Syracuse was forced to erase a double-digit deficit against Miami twice on Saturday, and it succeeded both times with an array of contested three-point field goals and a yeoman’s effort in the paint by center Rakeem Christmas

But when presented with easy points at the free throw line, the Orange showed nowhere near as much resolve and let both comebacks go to waste. 

Photo: Luke Rafferty
Rakeem Christmas (with ball) attempts to overpower the opposing front court during the second half of its game against Miami on Saturday evening.

SU missed 11 of 19 attempts from the charity stripe, including eight during the second half, and ultimately couldn’t overcome the Hurricanes’ dangerous perimeter shooting in a 66-62 loss in front of a season-high 30,677 fans at the Carrier Dome. 

“You go to the free throw line in those situations, you have to make those free throws,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim said. “We make some free throws, we win the game. Bottom line.” 

The Orange (14-6, 5-2 Atlantic Coast) entered the contest tied for 265th in the country with a 66.2-percent conversion average at the line, one that nearly cost it a number of close games during the season. 

On Saturday, the number of misfires proved too much to overcome. 

Following a deadlocked first half, Miami (14-5, 4-2 Atlantic Coast) came out firing from beyond the arc in the second. Davon Reed and Angel Rodriguez both buried a pair of triples in the first six minutes, allowing the Hurricanes to immediately jump out to a 10-point lead. 

But SU was able to roar back thanks to its star big man. 

Christmas, who mustered only five points against Miami center Tonye Jekiri in the first half, recovered in the second and poured in 18 more to essentially keep the Orange in position to strike. 

“I was taking a lot of tough shots out of my area,” Christmas said. “I’m not going to take jump shots. I had to get back to what I was doing at the beginning of the season.” 

Down only four points with 3:45 remaining, SU continued to trade field goals with the Hurricanes until the closing seconds. But Christmas and Michael Gbinije combined to miss five foul shots as Miami held the lead to the very end. 

Gbinije, who missed a two-handed dunk that nearly blew the roof off the Dome midway through the period, struggled at the line the entire half. His two-for-six performance lowered his season average to 49 percent, by far the worst of SU’s starting five. 

“I gotta focus on my form when I’m shooting,” Gbinije said. “Sometimes, I’m out of whack or not shooting the same way I do in practice. I just gotta find a way to get how I’m doing it in practice into the game.” 

Meanwhile, Miami found its stroke from behind the three-point line. 

The Hurricanes made 10 triples, including a dagger by Manu Lecomte in the final minute that ultimately buried the Orange. Reed made three of them and finished with 11 points. 

He was one of six Miami players that scored at least seven points. Overall, nine different Hurricanes tickled the twine, a testament to their depth at each position. 

“We always find an answer,” Rodriguez said. “That’s the toughest thing on the road. As long as you control the crowd, then you’re giving yourself a better shot of winning the game.” 

One bright spot for Syracuse was Tyler Roberson, who pulled down 14 boards and recorded his third double-double of the season. 

The loss is a significant blow to the Orange’s tournament hopes, although a testy Boeheim disregarded any talk of postseason play following the game. 

There was only the frustration of letting a signature victory slip away. 

Said Gbinije: “We should have won tonight. We shot ourselves in the foot.”

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