After serving as a supplementary piece in each of his first three seasons at Syracuse, more will be required of senior center Rakeem Christmas in 2014-15. And through the first two games of his final campaign at Syracuse, Christmas has done a good job of taking advantage of matchups that have worked in his favor.
After accounting for 21 points and nine rebounds in Syracuse’s season-opening win over Kennesaw State, Christmas put forth the best rebounding performance of his career Sunday afternoon. Christmas scored 15 points and grabbed 16 rebounds to lead the 23rd-ranked Orange to a 65-47 win over Hampton, with Syracuse pulling away late against a team that didn’t arrive in Syracuse until just over three hours before the scheduled tip time.
According to Syracuse, Christmas became the first player to grab at least 15 rebounds in a game since Baye Moussa Keita did so in a win over Canisius in 2010.
Christmas and freshman forward Chris McCullough combined to score 28 of Syracuse’s 65 points, and the Orange also scored 26 points in the paint. Those two will be key players for the Orange moving forward, as there are still issues when it comes to finding consistent shooting from the perimeter. As a team Syracuse shot 5-for-18 from three, with Trevor Cooney (2-for-7) and B.J. Johnson (2-for-5) being the players asked to provide the majority of the perimeter shooting Sunday afternoon.
The level of competition will pick up for Syracuse, beginning with their 2K Sports Classic semifinal against California, so the perimeter shooting will need to improve. But if there’s anything to take out of their first two games it’s the improved play of Christmas. After reaching double figures in just five games last season, the senior big man has done so in consecutive outings for just the third time in his college career.