Mountaineers take Orange to the edge

A last second West Virginia missed 3-point attempt proved to be the difference in the Dome on Saturday.

With No. 4 Syracuse’s depth and balance, it seems a different player steps up each game. Saturday, it was Brandon Triche’s turn. The junior guard scored 18 points, including two game-winning free throws with about 88 seconds remaining in the game. Despite rebounding issues and some late-game drama, the Orange (22-1, 9-1) were able to escape with a 63-61 victory over West Virginia (15-7, 5-4) in front of 28,740 fans at the Carrier Dome on Saturday.

Photo: Brandon Weight
Sophomore center Fab Melo was in street clothes in the Dome on Saturday. He spent the entire game on the sidelines.

With six seconds left in the game, WVU center Deniz Kilicli rebounded his teammate's missed shot and put up a layup. Syracuse sophomore center Baye Keita came out of nowhere to block the shot, but the ball seemed to hit the glass, which would make it goaltending and would have tied the game. West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins didn’t like the call, or lack thereof.

“Did I think it was (goaltending)? No,” an emotional Huggins said with a pause after the game. “No, I know it was. I just saw the replay.”

Because it was a judgment call by the referees, the play was not reviewable.

“I don’t know if they missed the call or not,” Keita said, adding that he hadn’t seen the replay yet.

Syracuse senior forward Kris Joseph controlled the controversial blocked shot, but instead of waiting to be fouled, he tried to dribble up the court. Joseph was tied up and the Mountaineers’ gained possession with enough time for one more shot.

Mountaineer forward Kevin Jones would miss a 3-point attempt on the ensuing possession, locking up Syarcuse head coach Jim Boeheim’s 878th career victory and leaving him one shy of tying Dean Smith for third all-time.

“When Kris got the ball, I don’t know what he was thinking about,” Boeheim said. “He just has to hold the ball and the game's over. We almost - just based on that play alone - we almost deserved to lose the game.”

Coming out of the WVU timeout, Syracuse knew what was coming.

“When it was coming inbounds, (WVU guard) Daryl (“Truck” Bryant) said ‘I’m going for the win.’ I said, ‘Triche, don’t let him shoot that ball,'" said sophmore guard Dion Waiters.

West Virginia failed to get a good look and the Orange avoided dropping two of their last three.  

Despite the victory, Syracuse struggled on the glass and from deep. The Orange were out-rebounded 41-20, including 19 offensive rebounds for the Mountaineers. 

“There’s no excuse to be that bad of a rebounding team,” Boeheim said.

Without sophomore center Fab Melo, sitting out his third game with academic issues, one would think it is Melo’s absence that's causing the rebounding problems. However, Boeheim said otherwise.

“It’s not the center’s the other positions,” he said. “In our defense, guards have to get rebounds and they’re not.”

The Orange’s three guards combined for only one rebound.

From three, SU shot just 4-for-20.

“We’ve got to make some of those shots,” Boeheim said.

If it weren’t for an impressive 63 percent mark from 2-point range, the Orange would have been in a hole.

There were positives for Syracuse, though. SU forced 17 turnovers while only committing six. In Melo’s absence, Keita played well, despite facing foul trouble. He finished his day with 4 points, 3 blocked shots and 4 rebounds.

After the game Boeheim said, “Baye was good, he was active.”

But the real positive takeaway from the game against WVU was the aggressive and efficient play of Triche, who shot 7-for-12 from the field and scored 12 second half points, including two game-winning free throws.

“Brandon was great, he made some huge plays for us, really stepped up,” Boeheim said.

Joseph also notched double figures, scoring 13 points and leading the team with seven rebounds.

Boeheim also added that Melo is “working through the issue.” The veteran coach is hopeful Melo will learn more this week.

In the meantime, Melo is helping out with his replacement Keita and cheering on the team from the sidelines.

“That’s the type of thing you want from a teammate,” Triche said.

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