Syracuse, NY – After suffering back-to-back losses to Michigan and St. John’s, Syracuse entered Sunday’s contest against Louisiana Tech needing a win to get back on track. The Orange did just that, as Rakeem Christmas’ hook shot with 2.2 seconds remaining gave Syracuse the 71-69 home victory.
Syracuse was in control for most of the game, leading 61-51 with 6:06 left, but Louisiana Tech answered with an 18-8 run to tie the game at 69 with just 22 seconds remaining. After a shot from Kaleb Joseph was blocked and eventually rolled out of bounds, Syracuse in-bounded the ball to Christmas on a post-up. He took a dribble and finished with a right-handed hook shot over his left shoulder for the final basket of the game. Raheem Appleby’s half-court heave fell short as Syracuse survived at home.
Junior shooting guard Trevor Cooney led Syracuse with a season-high 25 points. He connected on 8-of-18 shots and was especially effective from three-point range, hitting 4-of-8 attempts from behind the arc. The 6-foot-4 Cooney has shown some struggles from deep early this season, but is a streaky shooting threat that can put up huge scoring nights.
Christmas added 13 points, three assists, two rebounds, and two blocks on 5-of-6 shooting. He was a mismatch inside as the 6-foot-9 senior used his size and length to finish over defenders. Christmas also showed his athleticism with a dunk over a defender. He’s an effective post presence that has been a consistent piece for the Orange.
The top NBA draft prospect on the floor, freshman Chris McCullough, struggled for Syracuse. The 6-foot-10 forward was just 1-of-6 from the field and finished with five points. He added another six rebounds, three blocks, three steals, and two assists. McCullough has the length, athleticism, and shooting touch for the NBA, but will need to show more consistency to push for a lottery selection.
Louisiana Tech has a well-balanced attack that pressures opponents defensively. It starts with Kenneth “Speedy” Smith, a 6-foot-3 senior point guard. He didn’t score on Sunday, but contributed nine assists and four rebounds. Smith is an effective defender and floor general, but needs to show some scoring ability for the next level.
Guards Raheem Appleby and Alex Hamilton led the Bulldogs offensively with 20 points apiece while each shooting 7-of-12 from the field. Appleby, a 6-foot-4 senior, was a fearless scorer that was 3-of-5 from three-point range. He can sometimes play out of control, but is tough to stop when he gets in a rhythm.
Hamilton, who was coming off a 27-point showing in a loss to Louisiana-Lafayette, continued his strong scoring display while adding three assists, three steals, and two rebounds. He was 2-of-4 from behind the arc and is now averaging 15.8 points per game. The 6-foot-4 junior southpaw could be an underrated prospect to follow.
Michale Kyser was the only other Bulldog in double-figures, with 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He found most of his offense on lobs against the 2-3 zone while he also added five rebounds and four blocks. The 6-foot-9 senior is a quality athlete that anchors the Louisiana Tech defense.
While suffering back-to-back losses, Louisiana Tech is 7-3 this season and shows the makings for a solid mid-major program to watch. The Bulldogs haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 1991, but could challenge for the Conference USA bid.
Syracuse hasn’t lived up to preseason expectations with a 6-3 record early on, as the premature losses of Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant seem to have put the Orange in a rebuilding year. Only seven Syracuse players saw the floor on Sunday despite the fact Michael Gbinije sat the entire second half due to injury. The lack of depth and perimeter shooting may prevent Syracuse from reaching the NCAA Tournament, but we’ll have to wait until conference play to know for certain.
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