Yuki Mizuma | Staff PhotographerMen's Basketball
HE’S BACK: Southerland scores 13 in 1st game back as Syracuse defeats St. John’s 77-58
Brandon Triche peppered James Southerland with questions for the last two days. He wanted to know when Southerland would be back on the court. Not only so his friend could be back playing in his final season, but also because of how Southerland’s presence on the court affects the Orange’s offense.
Southerland knocks down shots from the outside. Defenses expand. The inside opens up. It’s a formula that Syracuse thrives off, but one it hasn’t had in a month.
The Orange could breathe easy for Sunday’s game. Southerland, who missed the last six games due to an academic issue, returned to the lineup and made big plays at both ends of the floor in Syracuse’s (20-3, 8-2 Big East) 77-58 win over St. John’s (15-9, 7-5 Big East) in the Carrier Dome. It was the Orange’s largest margin of victory since it beat Rutgers back on Jan. 2.
Southerland’s return wasn’t official until Saturday. His teammates were in the dark until then.
“It was almost like a secret. A lot of people weren’t sure,” Triche said. “I kept asking James ‘You going to play? He gave me a run-around answer. I had to ask him about 27 times.”
After winning his appeal in front of a judicial review board on Friday, Southerland reclaimed his spot in Syracuse’s rotation. In 26 minutes, Southerland finished with 13 points on 4-of-10 shooting, and also nailed three of his seven 3-point attempts.
Southerland entered the game at the 13:17 mark of the first half, replacing Jerami Grant. As soon as he removed his warm-up top and rose from the bench, seemingly all of the 27,169 fans in attendance took notice and roared.
Coming off a month without game action, Southerland wasn’t in a rhythm right away. He missed his first four field goals, but sank two free throws toward the end of the first half that gave SU a 34-22 lead.
Southerland had time to settle in. A dominant offensive performance by everyone else around him created separation from St. John’s. Syracuse shot 50 percent in the first half, and was 5-of-11 (45.5 percent) from the arc. Southerland attempted two 3s but missed both.
“He’s going to be nervous,” head coach Jim Boeheim said. “He was a little bit off the first half, and then he got the same shots in the second half. He’s going to make those shots if he gets them.”
Southerland hit his first 3 from the right corner a little over three minutes into the second half to give Syracuse a 43-31 lead. But St. John’s continued to hang around. D’Angelo Harrison hit a 3 at the other end to close the deficit to nine.
About a minute later, Southerland put a stamp on his return. Harrison missed a 3, and Triche grabbed the rebound. He passed to Carter-Williams, who threaded a pass to a breaking Southerland. He slammed the ball through the rim, sending a charge through the crowd as the Orange took a 46-34 lead.
St. John’s made a run and closed the deficit to five.But that’s when Southerland started dealing his greatest damage, which came from the arc, as usual.
“I got a nice little free throw to get me going a little bit,” Southerland said. “I came out not even thinking about the first half, just going out there firing.”
Over the next two minutes, Southerland hit two more 3-pointers, both from the top of the key. The second one put Syracuse up 58-45 as the Orange wrestled back momentum and control of the game. Having Southerland on the floor makes Syracuse’s offense deeper and more versatile.
“I know I’ve got someone out on the wing that’s capable of knocking down any type of shot,” Carter-Williams said. “I don’t have to force anything. I’ve got a pure shooter out on the wing.”
Having Southerland back means Syracuse can have an eight-man rotation again. Boeheim said that’s the ideal number, not seven. Plus, Southerland forces defenses to expand to the outside.
“He’s a threat outside and pulls the defense out to him which should open some things up inside,” Boeheim said. “We aren’t taking advantage of that, but we need to.”
Southerland is a force off the bench. Syracuse has more shooters to make big shots and opposing defense have more to defend. It’s a simple formula, but one that makes the Orange a more dynamic team.
“Now it’s going to be even more spread,” Triche said. “Now you know you have a knock-down shooter waiting on the 3-point line.”
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