Lauren Murphy | Asst. Photo EditorMen's Basketball
PRESSURE POINT: Syracuse uses full-court defense to remedy early struggles against Eagles
No. 4 Syracuse 84, Eastern Michigan 48
The frustration built with each puzzling turnover. The fourth came on a lob by Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams with no teammate in sight.
It grew with each missed shot as the Orange fell into a seven-point hole against Eastern Michigan. The eighth miss in nine attempts came on a 3-pointer by Trevor Cooney after James Southerland’s fadeaway jumper was blocked.
Less than six minutes into the game, Syracuse needed a spark.
“We all was struggling,” SU guard Brandon Triche said. “No player was playing good on our team and we just needed easy buckets just to get everybody’s nerves calmed down.”
Syracuse found the answer to its early struggles in the form of a full-court press. The rarely used defensive system sparked the No. 4 Orange (6-0) to an 84-48 victory over Eastern Michigan in front of 20,822 at the Carrier Dome on Monday night. SU turned the ball over 10 times and only shot 35.5 percent from the field in the first half, but overcame the sloppy performance behind its defensive pressure.
The Orange forced the Eagles to commit 24 turnovers and scored 31 points off the mistakes en route to the blowout victory.
“We haven’t really tried to press that much,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim said. “I don’t think that’s the strength of our team. I think we can press a little bit.
“But they have a couple of young guys and they made a couple mistakes early and they got a little bit shell-shocked against the pressure and we got some big turnovers.”
Boeheim said his team didn’t move the ball well in addition to its inept shooting performance early in the game against the Eastern Michigan 2-3 zone.
And he spent much of the first half befuddled by each mistake as he watched from the sideline. The head coach reacted to each with an animated display before calling his players over to point out their mistakes.
After the game, Boeheim called them uncharacteristic mistakes by his backcourt of Carter-Williams and Triche. For the first time this season, Carter-Williams fell victim to poor decision-making while trying to find his teammates.
Carter-Williams committed two of the team’s first four turnovers and finished with six in the game. Meanwhile, SU couldn’t find its stroke offensively, so it turned to the press — a weapon Triche said the team works on for 20 minutes each day at practice.
“Once we all was kind of struggling, we were trying to rush a little bit and try to seek shots,” Triche said. “But us playing hard on our press, we were able to get steals, get them in foul trouble a little bit and get easy buckets.”
The press was effective from the start as C.J. Fair stole a bounce pass by Da’Shonte Riley — thrown directly to him — and slammed it home to cut the lead to five. On the ensuing possession, Fair and Carter-Williams caused another turnover with a trap of EMU’s 5-foot-11-inch point guard just beyond half court.
The Carrier Dome and the team suddenly had life. The press eventually wore down the Eagles and created easy scoring opportunities that Syracuse struggled to generate on its own.
Southerland dropped in a floater on the baseline to give SU a 14-12 lead followed by a 10-second violation by Eastern Michigan as it continued to have trouble with the swarming SU press.
Carter-Williams then found Triche for another bucket and Syracuse was starting to click. The turnovers continued to pile up as the Orange took an 18-point lead into halftime.
The second half brought more of the same, and the team cleaned up its execution, committing eight turnovers and shooting 51.4 percent from the field.
“I think in the second half we made better plays as a team and we played a lot better defense,” Cooney said.
The defense remained at the forefront of Syracuse’s win. The Orange stayed in the press and remained aggressive to generate easy buckets down the stretch.
The lead ballooned to 29 after Trevor Cooney knocked down a 3-pointer and raced down the court with his fist extended. On the ensuing possession, Triche elicited another excited reaction from the bench after forcing a turnover on Eastern Michigan’s Jamell Harris, chasing down the loose ball and finishing the layup to stretch the lead to 31.
With less than eight minutes to play, Syracuse was well on its way to another blowout victory against a nonconference opponent. And it all started with the press.
“I thought the press got us going from the slow start,” Carter-Williams said. “I think it got us some easy baskets and got our confidence up and we just was rolling from there.”
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