Men's Basketball

Running back: Syracuse returns to transition game ahead of hosting St. John’s

Sam Maller | Asst. Photo Editor

Brandon Triche and the Orange are getting back to their more natural transition offense. A key in that back to basics approach is rebounding. Tellingly, SU is undefeated in games in which it outrebounds its opponents this season.

After Syracuse’s loss to Villanova, Brandon Triche realized the transition game that powered so many decisive runs in nonconference victories had disappeared in Big East play.

Nothing came easy in the Orange’s first eight games in the conference. The loss in Philadelphia followed by another in Pittsburgh hammered that point home for SU.

But on Monday, the team returned to early-season form. A swarming defense and quick decision-making revived the fast break, a fact not lost on Triche after an impressive 16-point victory against Notre Dame.

“I can’t remember the last time we got a fast-break point now that I think about it,” Triche said with a laugh. “I think we got one against Pittsburgh, that was an alley-oop, but other than that this was like one of our games from early in the season.”

No. 9 Syracuse (19-3, 7-2 Big East) will look to carry that performance into its matchup with St. John’s (15-8, 7-4) in the Carrier Dome at 3 p.m. Sunday. The Orange remains tied with Marquette for first place, but the conference race is muddled at this point. Ten of the conference’s 15 teams have at least five wins in Big East play, adding significance to every matchup as they fight to build their postseason resumes.

Syracuse learned that lesson after falling to the Wildcats and Panthers in consecutive games.

“When you lose two in a row in this league, you get nervous,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim said. “Everybody does. This was a real good bounce-back win.”

As Triche said, the win also marked the return of Syracuse’s fast break after the team combined for just seven points in transition in the two losses.

Syracuse dominated inferior competition during nonconference play, putting opponents away with runs highlighted by point guard Michael Carter-Williams finding teammates and finishing off steals.

On Monday, SU came out with a sense of urgency and shocked Notre Dame with a 10-0 run. Efficiency in the half court offense got it started, but converting off of turnovers and on the break completed the run and prompted a Notre Dame timeout less than five minutes into the game.

The Irish turned it over four times on seven possessions in that span. The final one came just four seconds before the timeout.

Triche poked the ball away from behind Notre Dame guard Eric Atkins at the top of the key. Carter-Williams was all over the loose ball. He picked it up, jumped in the air and fired an overhead pass to a streaking Triche alone on the opposite end of the court.

The senior guard easily dropped it over the front of the rim. Syracuse led 10-0. Mike Brey had seen enough.

“We got athletic guys that can get up and down the floor,” SU forward C.J. Fair said. “If we get a steal or a long rebound, we’re pushing to try to get an easy transition point.”

Notre Dame answered with an 11-0 run of its own, knocking down three 3-pointers to take the lead. But the Irish went cold and made only three more from beyond the arc the rest of the way.

Syracuse, on the other hand, played with the same energy and intensity for the entire game. SU outscored Notre Dame 8-0 in fast-break points and took a six-point lead into halftime.

Though Carter-Williams and Triche both failed to reach double-figures in scoring, they were the catalysts on both ends of the floor. The backcourt duo combined for 14 of SU’s 16 assists and four steals at the top of the zone.

“Our guards didn’t score, but they moved the ball, they got the ball to people,” Boeheim said. “We had 14 assists which is a big key for us. That number is important.”

Carter-Williams notched one of his team-high eight assists in transition in the opening minutes of the second half.

The point guard read Atkins’ inbounds pass and swooped in for the steal in front of the Notre Dame bench. Brey could only turn his head and scratch the back of his neck as he watched the play develop from there.

Carter-Williams immediately turned upcourt, eyes looking to make the next play in the open floor. That’s when Fair, who circled around the left side of the court, came into the picture.

The point guard let the ball go and the forward slammed it home with two hands. Brey could already sense the game getting away from the Irish, and called a timeout to regroup less than three minutes into the half.

But the damage was done as Fair and Carter-Williams met at half court to celebrate. Syracuse led by 10. The final 17-plus minutes were easy.

Said Triche: “We were able to get a few transition points and that made the game a lot more easy.”

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