It’s rare for an A-10 team to walk into a virtual home game against the No. 3 team in the country and walk out with a victory. It’s even more rare when that team is fresh off of a loss to a school from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
But Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, Temple outworked, outhustled, and ultimately outplayed Syracuse in the Owls’ 83-79 win in New York City.
There were a few areas of concern in Syracuse’s attack Saturday that are worth highlighting, some of which need to be corrected if the Orange want to make a run to a Big East title and a Final Four.
Temple Forced Michael Carter-Williams to Score
Carter-Williams is perhaps the best distribution-oriented point guard in the country. His 10.7 assists per game are a testament to that. But what Temple was able to do Saturday was force Carter-Williams away from distributing and facilitating and into scoring the basketball. In theory, it looked ok for Syracuse, but in practice it didn’t work out. He took 15 shots from the free throw line. As an 81 percent free throw shooter coming into the game, he shot just 7-of-15 from the stripe and 3-of-15 from the field. He had just four assists and three turnovers. There were times where he looked uncomfortable and frustrated. Having him out of sorts contributed to the Temple victory.
Zone Defense Breaking Down
Temple didn’t do anything fancy to break the Syracuse zone on Saturday. Anthony Lee was key down low as an option to work the ball into the middle of the defense and allow perimeter options like Khalif Wyatt and Jake O’Brien for a stretch of the game. Wyatt had a career-high 33 points, including 20 that carried the team in the first half. He was also unstoppable going to the basket, getting to the free throw stripe 15 times and hitting all 15 shots.
Toughness on the Interior
Lee bullied the No. 4 rebounding team in the country down low, plain and simple. He had nine rebounds on the afternoon, including five on the offensive boards. The Orange have depth down low, but no single one was effective in stopping Lee. Baye Keita and C.J. Fair each had eight rebounds, and James Southerland had nine, but Lee’s ability to get second-chance opportunities was key. Temple did not always capitalize on the second chances, but it gave them an opportunity to burn clock and control the tempo of the game.
Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_