Two Gutting-It-Out Victories In A Row For The Syracuse Basketball Team

It was another gut check for the Syracuse basketball team on Wednesday night. They passed the test with flying colors and have a road victory to show for it.

Syracuse scored its first win over a ranked team this past Saturday against then-No. 6 Florida State from the Carrier Dome. Now the Syracuse basketball squad has picked up its first road victory of the 2016-17 season, storming back from 16 points down in the second half to shock N.C. State in overtime, 100-93.

I can’t stress the importance of these two contests for the ‘Cuse (14-9, 6-4 in ACC play) to build critical momentum in trying to make a run toward a NCAA Tournament berth. I also can’t describe accurately in words how awesome John Gillon has performed in these last two conference clashes.

The graduate transfer had 21 points and 11 assists versus the Seminoles. So what did he do as an encore? Gillon, who has struggled outside of Central New York, “merely” topped that by tallying 43 points against the Wolfpack, on 9-of-10 shooting from downtown, 14-of-14 from the charity stripe, along with nine dimes.

That’s an insane stat sheet.

His fellow grad transfer, Andrew White III, chipped in 28 points and four steals.

A whopping 71 points between the two of them, and 29 for the remainder of the SU roster.

The Orange displayed some real grit on Wednesday night in Raleigh, N.C. In the first half, the ‘Cuse led by as many as eight points in battling with a Wolfpack outfit (14-9, 3-7) that isn’t all too impressive on the defensive end.

Yet N.C. State came out in the second stanza clicking on all cylinders, eventually generating a 75-59 advantage with about eight minutes to go. Syracuse, I figured, seemed done.

Then, Gillon, whose 43 points is tied for fourth-most in program history, caught fire, hitting a slew of long-range bombs to get SU back in it, including a ridiculous 3-pointer near the end of regulation to propel the game into overtime.

In the extra session, a few timely baskets from White, as well as clutch free-throw shooting from Gillon, enabled the Orange to secure the road triumph.

Syracuse connected on 56 percent from the field, 58 percent from 3-point land (15 makes) and 91 percent from the free-throw line (21-of-23).

A gargantuan offensive effort, to counteract a lousy defensive showing, as head coach Jim Boeheim would note in his post-game presser.

The ‘Cuse continues to strain in its 2-3 zone away the Carrier Dome, and if our boys want to make a serious attempt at reaching the Big Dance, they have to shore up their defense.

We should also mention that senior Tyler Roberson and sophomore Frank Howard each scored zero points, and while Boeheim didn’t mention them by name, clearly he’s disappointed in their lackluster outputs.

Still, as CBS college-basketball insider Jon Rothstein tweeted: “Huge win for the Orange on the road and a damaging loss for the Wolfpack.”

Added ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla in his own tweet: “With all the great players in Syracuse history, it’s hard to find many better back to back performances then John Gillon’s last two. Wow!”

Heck, even Syracuse assistant coach Gerry McNamara, who himself put up 43 points against BYU in the 2004 NCAA Tournament, said of Gillon in a tweet, “As good a performance I’ve seen.”

With no marquee victories in the non-conference slate, for the Orange, it’s all about collecting signature wins in the Atlantic Coast Conference to bolster its resume. That must entail conquests of ranked squads, as well as accomplishments on the road.

SU took an initial step in besting FSU. The ‘Cuse collected another one in squeaking by N.C. State, which represented Boeheim’s 999th career victory (whatever, NCAA).

A massive challenge – and opportunity – comes at noon on Saturday, Feb. 4, when the Orange hosts No. 9 Virginia. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking for a replay of last March’s Elite Eight match-up.

That outcome turned out fairly well.

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