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Syracuse at Missouri

January 13, 2004 Columns No Comments

Warrick leads Syracuse to win over Tigers

by Zach Ewing

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Immediately after his team had recorded an 82-68 road victory over Missouri on Monday night at the Hearnes Center, a Syracuse assistant coach shouted words of encouragement at his team.

“That’s how you win on the road, men,” he barked as the Orangemen headed to the locker room.

Syracuse used easy buckets and good production out of their zone defense to beat Mizzou on Monday. The Tigers shot 5-of-27 from three-point range against the zone.

“This is the best our zone has been all year,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said.

Missouri coach Quin Snyder said defense, though, was the main reason why his team lost.

“When you can’t stop them, it’s tough getting anything going,” he said. “Defensively we just had breakdown after breakdown, and it’s a mental breakdown. It starts and finishes on the defensive end.”

Sophomore forward Hakim Warrick led the charge against the Tiger defense, scoring 21 points and pulling down 12 rebounds, 7 of which were on the offensive end.

The thing to blame for the loss was the mental make-up of the MU players, Paulding said.

“It’s not the coaches, it’s not practice, it’s not the X’s and O’s,” he said. “It’s us as a group as players doing what it takes to win the game.”

The game was Syracuse’s first road test and, even counting games on neutral courts, its first game outside the upstate New York area. Throughout the game, however, the Cuse did a good job of limiting MU runs to keep the hostile crowd out of the game. After MU had closed within three points early in the second half, Syracuse responded with 10 straight points to take its biggest lead of the night to that point, 53-40.

The team in orange eventually extended the run to 18-4 and held a commanding 61-44 lead. MU got back within eight points twice, but Syracuse was nearly perfect from the free-throw line down the stretch to hang on for the win.

Senior wing Rickey Paulding led MU with 25 points, but even he struggled shooting the ball, making only 2-of-11 three-point shots.

The game started with both teams playing very well on offense. McNamara hit 2 early three-pointers for the Orange, while McKinney had a dazzling drive for a three-point play and Paulding drained a three to counter for Mizzou.

Four Orangemen scored all of Syracuse’s first-half points: Craig Forth and Warrick each put up 10, and Josh Pace and Gerry McNamara added 9 points each. Warrick also had 6 rebounds in the half, and had a spectacular drive and dunk to spark a 10-2 Syracuse run to end the half. The four players finished the game with 71 combined points, more than MU’s whole team.

Forth, a 7-foot junior center, was averaging only 4.8 points a contest coming into the game and had only scored in double figures once, but he exploded for 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field and 4-of-4 from the line.

As for the Tigers, they got solid performances inside from freshman Linas Kleiza, who had 9 points and 12 boards, and senior Arthur Johnson, who recorded 8 points and 10 rebounds. None of MU’s inside players, however, ever found a rhythm against Syracuse’s aggressive 2-3 zone.

Almost like a CD stuck on repeat on one song forever, the Tigers played well, even brilliantly for stretches, but couldn’t put together 40 full minutes of high-intensity basketball.

“When we were making the run, they kept getting some kind of easy baskets,” McKinney said. “They were getting easy baskets all night. I don’t know how, but it was our mental focus. That’s what killed us, those easy baskets.”

On the flip side, the news is all good for the Orangeman, who won their first road game of the year, improved to 12-1 on the season, and can now look forward to rising in the polls and the Big East standings.

For Mizzou, the situation is much more complicated. The Tigers had risen as high as No. 2 in the nation early in the season, but are now just 6-6 with no quality wins.

McKinney, Johnson and Paulding all said this is the time Missouri needs to start living up to expectations, or at least winning.

“I wouldn’t say down on ourselves, but we feel we need to make a change and a run right now or our season will be down the drain,” McKinney said.

The Tigers have only one more game outside of the Big 12 Conference schedule, and Snyder said it’s do or die.

“We’ve got no other choice,” he said. “We’ve got to come together. When we feel urgency in game pressure, we perform. It’s not so much about our physical effort, but our mental effort.”


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