Men's Basketball

Without Coleman, Syracuse frontcourt becomes more exposed to foul trouble

Sam Maller | Photo Editor

Rakeem Christmas has picked up four fouls in each of the last two games. With DaJuan Coleman sidelined for the rest of the season, he'll have to do a better job of staying out of foul trouble.

When Rakeem Christmas picked up his fourth foul with 4:42 left in Syracuse’s 59-54 win against Pittsburgh on Saturday, Jim Boeheim turned toward his bench. He looked at senior center Baye Moussa Keita, paused, then turned back toward the court.

“I don’t usually worry about foul counts down the stretch,” Boeheim said after the game. “You’ve got to be able to stay out, and you don’t want to get missed plays out of the game.”

On Monday, Syracuse University Athletics announced sophomore center DaJuan Coleman would require season-ending surgery for a left knee injury. That leaves Christmas and Keita as the only two players with experience playing in the middle of the Orange’s 2-3 zone. They’re also the two players with the most fouls this season.

With half a regular season plus postseason play left, it’s likely there will come a game when Jerami Grant or C.J. Fair will have to take a turn beneath the basket. And it’s almost certain Boeheim will face similar decisions to the one he made late in the Pitt game.

“We can play with foul trouble,” Boeheim said. “Our players know how to do that. If you lose (Christmas), we’d still get Baye, so it’s not a problem.”

Luckily for Syracuse, its 16 fouls per game are the 12th fewest in the country. The team’s signature 2-3 zone has been especially beneficial in that category with the new hand-checking rules this season.

Coleman’s loss could be worse for other teams running other systems. But if the Orange big men continue their production this season— Christmas especially — it’s likely Grant and Fair won’t have to venture off their traditional spots on the wings too often.

“Defensively (Christmas) is one of the best bigs we have,” point guard Tyler Ennis said after SU’s 57-45 win over North Carolina on Jan. 11. “We count on him to get stops, we count on him to rebound and he’s just kind of getting the recognition now.”

For the first time this season, Christmas has picked up four fouls in back-to-back games. Due to foul trouble, he sat on the bench for the final 18:27 of the Orange’s 69-59 comeback win over Boston College on Jan. 13.

In his place, Keita picked up four fouls and Grant played more than the last 10 minutes with four fouls as well.

Boeheim said it was the first game the team was seriously strained due to fouls. Grant, who was whistled for two questionable fouls on block attempts, said he’s learned to play with four fouls.

“Calls happen,” Grant said. “You try to keep a level head and just go from there.”

With Coleman out for the remainder of the season, keeping that level head and staying out of foul trouble will be crucial for the Orange frontcourt moving forward.

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