Jim Boeheim

Syracuse survives upset bid from Boston College

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CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — For much of the game, it looked like Boston College, a team that has disappointed thus far, was ready to have the court rushed in what would have been a huge upset win over No. 2 Syracuse on Monday night at Conte Forum.

Instead the 3-point shots stopped falling for the Eagles and the second-chance opportunities began to pile up for the Orange, as Syracuse overcame an eight-point second half deficit to escapeChestnut Hill with a 69-59 win to remain perfect on the season.

“We’ve been down in the second half a number of times this year,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said. “And when we’ve been in that situation, guys made players. It’s been C.J. a lot, but tonight I think it was Tyler with a couple big plays and Trevor. Then C.J. got a couple.”

The Orange led by two at halftime, and then quickly lost the lead in the second half as Boston College continued its hot shooting (5-of-12 from three in the first half) in the early stages of the half when Lonnie Jackson and Joe Rahon drilled back-to-back threes.

“Our offensive was the problem tonight,” Boeheim said. “If we lost it would have had nothing to do with out defense.”

Syracuse used its length to trap in its 2-3 zone defense at times on Monday night, and on several occasions, Rahon made some difficult passes out of that trap to find open teammates: one was a cross-court pass to Jackson (18 points) for three and another was to Ryan Anderson for a dunk, giving the Eagles its largest lead of the night at 45-37.

The Orange came back by attacking the glass to spark its sluggish. Trailing by five, Jerami Grant (playing with for fouls) and Trevor Cooney scored six straight Syracuse points off offensive rebounds. Cooney would later add a 3-pointer to stretch Cuse’s lead to 60-51 with six minutes to go. If that wasn’t dagger, Grant’s putback slam was moments later.

Still for most of the game the offense looked bad. Boston College was energized in front of a sold out crowd, and played well defensively, but the Syracuse offense didn’t help itself with unforced turnovers on the night. One of the bright spots was Cooney, who ended with a game-high 21 points.

Cooney had shot the ball poorly in his last game (2-of-12 from three). On Monday night he made an effort to attack the basket in the halfcourt set (his offensive rebound and putback cut the lead to one with 8:47 left) and in transition (three first half dunks).

“I wasn’t shooting that well from three earlier in the season,” Cooney said. “Today I really wanted to be more aggressive and get me going.”

Syracuse remains among the unbeatens, and got a good road test from Boston College in the process. The Orange are back at home on Saturday to host No. 22 Pitt as BC heads to North Carolina.

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.