SYRACUSE Usually at this point in the season, when Syracuse plays a number of second-echelon Division I teams at home and wins by a wide margin, coach Jim Boeheim takes time afterward to tell anyone who will listen how much his team needs to improve, dwelling on the negatives through the opening two weeks of the season
But with this particular team, Boeheims preachings have been mostly positive. And after the No. 6 Orange thumped Central New York neighbor Colgate 87-51 Sunday in the Carrier Dome for its 46th straight win against the Raiders, the veteran boss was almost giddy for him over how his team has matured in such a short span.
Were doing a lot of good things, were working hard and I think the kids understand what we want to do, said Boeheim after SU also achieved its 46th straight regular-season nonconference victory. That doesnt mean we still dont have room for improvement. But these kids have worked their tails off to get this far this soon, and thats impressive even to me.
The Orange (4-0) received another balanced attack as senior reserve James Southerland led four players in double figures with 18 points. Senior guard Brandon Triche contributed 15 points, freshman forward DaJuan Coleman added 12 points and seven rebounds, and sophomore forward Rakeem Christmas netted a season-high 10 points and grabbed nine rebounds.
James is playing great, our bigs are doing a really nice job and our defense has been strong, said Boeheim, who posted career win No. 894. And Michael is playing point guard about as well as you can play it.
That would be sophomore Michael Carter-Williams, who continues to fill up the stat sheet. Sunday, he scored but eight points but dished out a career-best 13 assists, had six rebounds and four steals and just one turnover in a brilliant 28-minute performance.
That followed an 11-assist, two-turnover effort against Wagner a week ago in his home debut.
Im just trying to get everybody involved, said Carter-Williams, who recorded nine assists on SUs first 10 baskets of the game. The guys are getting open and Im just finding them. The last couple of games, I didnt need to score as much and I looked to pass first. Thats my job.
Said backcourt partner Triche: Michael is making his teammates look really good. Hes playing so confidently right now, seeing the whole court and making all the right decisions.
Southerland, who hit four 3-pointers, said he cost Carter-Williams at least three or more assists by missing open shots. And even Boeheim suggested that his young point guard could have had 17 or 18 assists rather easy because we did miss a lot of good open looks in the first half.
Its certainly an on-going process, Boeheim said. Big guys need time to work on their game, but ours are getting better each time out. I thought DaJuan had his best game this season, and Rakeem has just been steady.
Boeheim is also using the opportunity to give everybody extended playing time, and working different combinations that could be helpful down the road.
I think were in a really good position after four games, Boeheim said.
Southerland, who scored16 points to propel SU to a 38-24 halftime lead, said the key to this clubs early good play is focus.
We have been focused every day in practice and during games no matter who the opponent is, he said. Were coming out ready to play and setting the tone for the game early on instead of waiting several minutes like the last couple of seasons.
This is a very young group, with Triche the lone returning starter, and only C. J. Fair and Southerland having seen extended time a year ago.
It usually takes a lot more time to bring everybody together, Triche said. But I think this team really listens well and has a tremendous work ethic.
Carter-Williams said one big reason for the almost instant chemistry is that the players get along.
People dont realize how important is to a teams success, he said. This is also one of the most unselfish teams Ive ever been around.
Sunday, SU recorded assists on 18 of its 28 baskets. The Orange, which has already recorded 65 assists in four games, also outrebounded Colgate (3-4) by 43-32, outscored the Raiders 42-14 in the paint and 21-0 off turnovers.
SU now heads off to Fayetteville, Ark., to play Arkansas in the SEC/Big East Challenge on Friday night.
Its a tough home-court atmosphere and they really come at you, Boeheim said of the Razorbacks. But I think this group is ready for that kind of challenge.