Men's Basketball

Ennis shines in win over St. John’s, earns high praise from Boeheim

Gerry McNamara. Pearl Washington. Sherman Douglas. Brandon Triche. Adrian Autry. Jason Hart.

None were better during their freshman season than Tyler Ennis is this year, according to Jim Boeheim.

“As a freshman point guard, he’s playing better than anybody I’ve ever had,” Boeheim said without changing his inflection. “And I’ve had just a few very good freshman point guards.”

Ennis starred at Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon, igniting No. 2 Syracuse to a 68-63 win over St. John’s (6-3). He put on a clinic in front of 16,357, guiding the Orange to its fifth consecutive 10-0 start to the season.

The poised freshman hit six free throws in the final 1:20 of the first half and two more to ice the game with 42 seconds remaining. He scored 15 points in the first half and shined down the stretch.

“He always makes the right play,” Syracuse guard-forward Michael Gbinije said. “For him to be able to think like that and play like that at such a young age is what really makes him special.”

In the first half, he converted on a high-arcing lefty floater to give Syracuse a five-point cushion. He found Jerami Grant for a monstrous dunk. He even banked in a 3.

Ennis controlled the tempo of the game, breaking the press with ease, penetrating the lane and finding his teammates.

Boeheim thought SU was rated too high at the start of the season. On Sunday, he said the Orange has potential to be a good team, but isn’t a good team yet.

But Ennis has exceeded expectations, and so has Syracuse. A No. 9 spot quickly changed to No. 2. As Michigan State, Louisville and Kansas dropped like flies from the ranks of the unbeaten, SU’s record remains unblemished.

C.J. Fair’s been the main option, but Ennis has been a close second, feeding Fair and Trevor Cooney the ball and scoring when he’s open.

“Maybe the rating people were smarter than I am,” Boeheim said wryly. “They knew Tyler was better than whatever his rating was. He’s been the difference.”

He was the difference Sunday. For a while, it appeared St. John’s would stage the comeback and the upset. But Ennis and Fair fended them off.

In Maui, Ennis dropped 28 on California as the Orange pulled away for the win. Against Indiana, he fueled a second-half surge. The learning curve that usually stumps freshmen hasn’t been there.

“Really if he played like a normal freshman,” Boeheim said, “we’d be about 7-3 right now.”

Not all of Ennis’ afternoon was flawless, though. In the second half, he hit a dry spell, missing three straight shots and committing a turnover to start the half. St. John’s, led by D’Angelo Harrison, sliced into SU’s lead. A bucket by Harrison gave the Red Storm its first lead at 55-54.

Then Ennis returned to form.

He found Fair for a baseline jumper, hit two free throws and then scissored through the lane for a layup. The basket gave Syracuse a 62-60 advantage, one it never relinquished.

“He really struggled in the second half,” Boeheim said. “He was really playing like a freshman and he doesn’t do that usually, but then he made a couple unbelievable plays.”

He showcased the same composure he has all season. And the result was yet another Syracuse win.

“He’s definitely confident and he’s poised as a freshman,” Fair said. “That’s important for us because we’re not in a situation where we need to build a point guard. He’s already what you need.”

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