Men's Basketball

POINT OF ATTACK: Carter-Williams’ 13 assists create ample scoring opportunities in Syracuse’s 87-51 rout of Colgate

With a wave of his hand, Michael Carter-Williams turned away Rakeem Christmas’ attempt at a screen. A circular gesture seconds later sent Jerami Grant cutting through the Syracuse offense from one side of the court to the other.

The possession ended with the ball in the hands of Christmas — on a pass from Grant — for a well-constructed turnaround jumper that went in and out of the rim. And though the result was a missed shot, Carter-Williams had once again run the offense to perfection. Just as he did all game long.

“He’s able to find guys,” senior guard Brandon Triche said. “If we would have made a few more open shots he probably would have had close to 20 assists.”

Instead Carter-Williams settled for 13, a career high, and tied for the fourth-highest total in school history. His brilliant distribution was coupled with excellent decision-making in a performance that picked apart the Colgate defense in an 87-51 win. For the third straight contest, Carter-Williams dictated the flow of the game, this time to the delight of 21,085 inside the Carrier Dome.

He dazzled the fans from the opening tip on Sunday, assisting on eight of his team’s first nine field goals. With his backcourt partner, Triche, operating almost exclusively off the ball when the two were on the court together, Carter-Williams ran the offense — both half-court and fast-break — with confidence.

A connection was forged with James Southerland, a streaky-shooting senior swingman, who found his range from outside early. Carter-Williams attacked the paint in transition on Syracuse’s fourth possession of the game only to kick it back out to Southerland for a 3-pointer from the wing. It was a play repeated at the 10:34 mark of the first half when Southerland converted his second of four 3s in the first half.

“Michael is doing a great job of finding open guys,” head coach Jim Boeheim said. “He’s really playing as well as any point guard we’ve had in a long time in terms of getting the ball to people, making plays for other people.”

Carter-Williams missed a runner that bounced too strong off the backboard in the opening 90 seconds of the game, but after that he adopted a new mantra. He passed first, passed second and — almost begrudgingly — looked to shoot third.

He scored his first points of the game on a dunk to open the scoring at the 19:06 mark of the second half, by which point he had dished out nine assists compared to just one turnover. Carter-Williams finished the game with eight points, four steals and six rebounds to go along with his 13 assists — a total that matched the career high of assistant coach Gerry McNamara.

“He was terrific,” McNamara said. “He’s seeing the floor really well right now and really getting everybody involved. The last few games, you really couldn’t have picked apart the game better than Michael has. I’m really happy for his progression and proud of him.”

Over the last three games, Carter-Williams has tallied 33 assists while turning the ball over only seven times. It’s evidence that his transition from do-it-all high school star to sparsely used, oft-frustrated freshman to starting point guard is finally settling in for the 6-foot-5-inch sophomore.

Even on the plays where his team did not score, he ran the offense successfully to create open shots. On the three possessions prior to the aforementioned miss by Christmas, Carter-Williams created two wide-open looks for sharpshooter Trevor Cooney — one in transition and one in the half-court offense — as well as an easy layup for Grant off a pick-and-roll.

With his quickness and size advantage against a team whose point guard, Mitch Rolls, was five inches shorter, Carter-Williams certainly could have scored in double figures. Southerland even said he could net 20 every game with ease.

But it was the maturity of a true floor leader that Carter-Williams displayed on Sunday, and his team will be better off for it.

“I think I was definitely blessed by God with some court awareness and just to understand the game,” Carter-Williams said. “And I think I’ve worked very hard at it and just tried to find my open teammates.”

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