SYRACUSE Its pretty apparent through eight games that this Syracuse University basketball team has an abundance of talent, depth to die for and a physical presence that intimates opposing teams.
But the one factor that may set this team apart from those of recent memory is how they share the ball. That unselfishness, which manifested itself in a season-high 30 assists in Saturdays 108-56 rout of Monmouth at the Carrier Dome, has led to the Orange continuing to improve on offense and allowing so many different players to make offensive contributions.
Behind a career-high 16 assists from mercurial sophomore point guard Michael Carter-Williams, fourth-ranked SU (8-0) put on a passing clinic to record its nations-best 28th straight home win. The Orange also increased its regular-season, nonconference winning streak to 50 games.
Brandon Triche led six Orange in double figures with 18 points and distributed eight assists as SU overcame another slow start to blast the Hawks (5-5) back to New Jersey.
When we find each other like that, this is a really good team, said SU coach Jim Boeheim, who moved within two career wins of No. 900. And not only did we look for each other, we made the right pass at the right time, and then knocked down the open shot. Good teams become great teams when they can do that consistently.
After assisting on three-fourths of its baskets (42) Saturday, SU has now recorded 148 assists on 246 baskets for the season, or a 61-percent rate.
Two-to-one is really good, Triche said. But the past few games, weve really been good about looking for the open guy and making sure he gets the ball on time and in the right scoring position.
Carter-Williams, who now has 83 assists and leads the nation at 10.4 per game, said theres no secret to why SU is playing so unselfishly.
Nobody cares who scores, said Carter-Williams, who filled up the stats sheet with 15 points, five steals and four blocks. Were really learning how to play together and find where guys are comfortable with the ball. And its Brandons and my job to make deliver it on time.
SU senior James Southerland (14 points) said he believes the Carter-Williams-Triche backcourt duo is the best in the country. How many guards can pass, score, rebound and get as many steals as those guys? As a scorer, all you have to do is find your open spot, and theyll get you the ball.
Recording his third straight double-double of points and assists, Carter-Williams achieved the third best assist game in SU history behind all-time Orange assist leader Sherman Douglas (22) and Dwayne (Pearl) Washington (18).
He admitted the record has crossed my mind a few times. Its just a competitive thing for me. I want to do my best every game. But records come as part of a team.
Junior C. J. Fair also had 14 points and 10 rebounds, while freshman DaJuan Coleman recorded his first double-double with 11 points and 14 rebounds. Redshirt freshman Trevor Cooney netted 15 points, making five 3-pointers, and sophomore Rakeem Christmas contributed 11 points in a truly balanced attack.
Everybody was pretty good tonight, Boeheim said. Michael probably could have had 16 or 17 assists a couple other times if we had made the shots we made tonight.
Monmouth, of the Northeast Conference, kept it close early, holding the Orange to a 19-19 tie midway through the opening half. But when SUs pressure defense began forcing turnovers, which led to easy hoops, Boeheims club was ahead 57-28 at intermission. Ed Waite led Monmouth, which had won four of five, with 10 points in the game.
SU scored 38 points in the final 10 minutes of the first half, then boosted its run to 21-0 by starting the second half with 13 consecutive points. Thats 51 points in a little more than 12 minutes.
I didnt realize it was that many, but we were really rolling, said Triche, who has now scored in double figures in nine straight games dating back to last season. Once we get the steals and our transition game kicks into gear, were pretty much unstoppable.
Perhaps benefitting the most from Carter-Williams dishes is Cooney, the teams best outside shooter who had suffered through an 0-for-11 slump from 3-point range before the last two games.
Since then, he is 10-for-22, including 5-for-9 on Saturday.
I didnt worry about the shots not falling because I have a lot of confidence in myself, said Cooney, who sat out last year while playing behind four other guards. But now that Ive knocked the rust completely off, Im getting into a good rhythm. Michael is amazing because he sees the entire floor and just has that knack for finding the right guys.
Coleman, the talented rookie from Jamesville-DeWitt, is also starting to show signs of the potential that led him to be one of the top recruits in the country last year.
Boeheim said, With DaJuan its going to be a long process. Hes learning that making the same moves he did in high school wont cut it here. But hes a willing learner.