It wasn’t pretty, it was downright hard to watch at times, and that applies to fans of both teams. Syracuse battled California in San Jose and with a parade of trips to the free throw line, moved on to the Sweet 16 after finally winning the game 66-60.
It never really seemed that close to be honest, Syracuse looked to be in control from the beginning and apparently all those long arms and foot speed were in the Cal players heads as they missed and missed, and then missed some more. Golden Bear forward Richard Solomon with 22 pts., and guard Tyrone Wallace with 12 were the lone double figure scorers for Cal. The Orange was just up in their shirts the entire game while they also seemed to struggle offensively. At least it looked that way. But defense wins championships and Syracuse does have some intense defense. The team forced 17 turnovers, had 10 steals, 3 blocks, and somehow won the rebound war 35-33. And still, both teams really looked to be struggling to survive. Syracuse for all of the 10-12 point leads kept letting Cal get it to 5, 6, or 8 points only to get the lead back to double digits. Cal put the Orange on the foul line 41 times. Yes, 41 times and Syracuse made 26 of those, add in 5 or 6 more made free throws and this game was over much earlier.
With all of the bad passes, missed shots, mishandles balls, and what just looked like sloppy play; the Orange (basically a 6 man team this evening) overcame and moved on. CJ Fair, the wondrously talented and quiet leader hit for 18 points with 6 rebounds, 2 steals and a block. James Southerland fouled out with around 3 minutes to go (at least 2 of his fouls were of the ‘he breathed on him’ variety) had 14 with 2-3 pointers, 9 boards, 2 assists, 4 steals; if only he did this all four years. Triche had 8 but only on a single field goal ( a 3) and really looked lost with the ball at times, but he stays on the court for his defense. Game ball should go to Baye Moussa Keita; he hit 7-10 free throws while scoring 11, snaring 7 boards, and basically was solid in the paint.
Why coach didn’t try Coleman or Cooney a bit more is a bit of a mystery, Jerami Grant got 7 minutes but he had the look of a freshman tonight. Whatever the issues in this game, the team survived into the Sweet 16 and will face either Indiana or Temple (beat SU 83-79 on Dec. 22). The team has several days to rest up, get back East into DC and figure it out. Whatever team from those two that will be awaiting them will be expecting to win, so Syracuse could use that early season swagger next week.