Push came to shove on Thursday night with about ten minutes left in Syracuse's 85-73 win over Florida. It was at that point that Florida took its first lead of the game since an early 6-3 lead. The Gators had been battling all night long to stay in the game and it seemed like maybe they were about to seize control.
But Syracuse ran a set play. Andy Rautins flashed outside, off a down screen, and knocked down a long range three. Lead restored. But it wasn't the end of the need.
So the Orange continued to find the key guy. Moments later, Wes Johnson scored five straight points and there was again some seperation. The first bucket was a three at the expiration of the shot clock and the second was a fastbreak layup in traffic.
Another question about this Syracuse team was answered. A question that really hadn't been raised in the first eight games of the season. What would happen in the Orange needed key buckets down the stretch? As a fan it was the answer you were looking for.
Syracuse's experienced players, Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins showed that at key moments in the game, when their team would need them most they could be counted on.
The win which came moments later won't do anything to win the Orange a national championship. Perhaps, the victory away from the Carrier Dome will ultimately bump them up a seed come March. But it won't ultimately make them win a championship.
However, it does again show that this team can be a contender. They've answered several questions early on, they've shown several of the traits needed to win a championship. They've shown balance, a stifling defense and a willingness to work with their teammates, and the ability to get points from different areas on the floor. For me, the one key trait that hadn't been answered was who would be the go-to guy when they needed it. Actually, I think it was obvious that Rautins and Johnson would be those guys.
The question was could they produce?
The answer against a good Florida team, in an environment that should have favored the Gators was a resounding yes.
For more on the Syracuse win, check out these stories
Syracuse.com Blog entry
Jackson not the Plan
Three Idiots Observations
Inside the Box Score