Syracuse came out on top in every category but final score

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Syracuse shot better from the field in both halves. They outscored Massachusetts in the paint, at the free-throw line, on second-chances and on the fast break.

The Orange out-rebounded the Minutemen, had four players score 20-plus points (UMass had two) and all three players who had double-doubles last night played for SU coach Jim Boeheim.

But none of them left the Carrier Dome with a victory.

That privileged stroll to the locker room and post-game press conference belonged to UMass coach Travis Ford and his group of seemingly ‘no-name players’: a group that set the record for most points scored by an opposing team at the Carrier Dome since it opened in 1980. And all that in their first-ever trip to the fabled gymnasium.

“Every timeout they were really positive with each other. We were down 10 [points] in the second half and the timeout came; they weren’t even phased,” Ford said. “I’m just pretty proud of their mentality in a very tough environment.”

Those watching on ESPN Classic and at the Dome were expecting to see the Donte Green and Jonny Flynn expose, not the Dante Milligan – ‘I’m never going to miss a shot’ – and Ricky Harris, ‘I’m going to drop 20-points in the second half after shooting 2-of-9 before halftime,’ clinic.

With the way this game turned out – a 107-100 UMass victory – it only made sense that not much in this game did make sense.

The Orange shot 56.3 percent from the field, outscored UMass by 12 in the paint (52 to 40) and grabbed 12 more rebounds than the interior-challenged Minutemen, and still lost.

Flynn had a superlative performance for a Syracuse offense that even the sullen Boeheim praised after the game. The rookie point guard had 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting, and got all of his teammates involved with a game-high 12 assists.

Eric Devendorf had a strong night (23 points) and Green and Arinze Onuaku contributed with 20 points apiece. Onauku had 10 rebounds for the double-double and Paul Harris had a strong night (13 points, 11 rebounds) that was forgotten as soon as the final buzzer sounded.

But all that wasn’t enough.

Boeheim had the answers to why this was the case – he just didn’t seem to know how to correct the problem.

“We just got to play better on defense. That’s it,” Boeheim said as he walked off the podium.

“Well, we haven’t been able to fix it in six weeks, that’s all I can tell you,” he said earlier, responding to one of the many questions about the struggles of his defense.

The Orange couldn’t get that quick fix on either Harris or Milligan, who combined to score 31 points on 11-of-17 shooting from the field after halftime. They didn’t stop Gary Forbes (15 points after halftime, 23 total) and they had no such luck stopping the 3-point shot for UMass. Even with Harris’s struggles from the perimeter (3-of-11), Syracuse allowed the Minutemen to shoot 45.2 percent behind the arc (14-of-31).

UMass used clutch jump shots from Gary Forbes, inspired and physical low-post play from Milligan, and Harris deciding to take the ball to the rim to edge Syracuse. They showed poise in a tough environment, and took advantage of what they set out to do.

“They were really the younger team, because we have guys like Gary Forbes – a fifth-year senior, Luke Bonner – a fourth-year junior – and they just have two true freshman, a true sophomore and two true juniors. We just used our experience tonight,” UMass point guard Chris Lowe said.

After the game, Ford couldn’t help but praise the perseverance of his team, but he was particularly pleased with the ferocious performance by Milligan.

“Dante finally gave us that physical presence we’ve been looking for,” he said. All of his points came tonight on physical plays. This team desperately needed that. The whole game they were killing us inside. And finally we got a little bit of that back with him.”

“I think my aggression carried over to the team and it drew up positive energy, which allowed all of us to play with an extreme amount of confidence,” Milligan said.

Milligan missed just one shot. He was 8-of-9 from the floor, and had seven rebounds, including key offensive rebounds down the stretch. His dominating performance in the paint during the second half didn’t surprise him.

But what transpired over the full 40 minutes surprised just about everyone.

Just not the Minutemen.

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]