Christmas’ low-post defense holds Loyola bigs at bay, creates opportunities for Syracuse offense

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on November 26, 2014 at 12:10 am Contact Jesse: | @dougherty_jesse During the day on Tuesday, before his team trudged through a win over Loyola, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim peered at the Orange’s statistics through its first four games. And one figure stood out to him. “I had looked coincidentally today and (Rakeem Christmas) had only blocked six shots on the stat sheet I saw, and I think that was for the year too which surprised me,” Boeheim said after the game “I think that Chris (McCullough) had 12 and I was not aware that Rakeem hadn’t blocked that many shots this year. “I guess he must have gotten the message subliminally today because he was very good and made some really good plays.”The senior forward finished with six of the Orange’s nine blocks, one shy of his career-high, in SU’s (4-1) 70-37 win over the Greyhounds (2-3) in the Carrier Dome on Tuesday night. Loyola made just 10 field goals, none of which came from its frontcourt, and scored just six points in the paint despite grabbing 15 offensive rebounds. AdvertisementThis is placeholder textChristmas played a large role in holding the Greyhounds’ bigs completely at bay as his defense helped the Orange to 21 points off turnovers and 25 on the break. “I know how to block shots,” Christmas said, plainly, about a performance that also included 18 points and nine rebounds. Aside from a physical advantage over Loyola, with both his size and athleticism, Christmas’ six blocks were a product of the Greyhounds’ offensive approach. From the opening tip, which Christmas casually slapped out of bounds while Loyola’s Franz Rassman stood watching, the Greyhounds drew out possessions to keep the score low and the Orange on defense.While that helped Loyola stay within an arm’s length early on, it also helped Christmas key on forced shots at the tail end of possessions. “They were getting down in the wire for the shot clock for them, a couple seconds left, and I knew they had to get a shot off,” Christmas said. “I knew they had to get a shot off and I was just going to block it.”In the Orange’s first four games, Christmas picked up early fouls and had to hedge his aggression in the low post. But he entered the second half with just one foul on Tuesday night, and his defense jumpstarted SU’s offense as the hosts pulled away. With under 16 minutes left and the Orange a play or two away from closing the Greyhounds out, Christmas blocked a Tyler Hubbard floater and McCullough finished a dunk on the other end. Boeheim said Christmas wasn’t too sharp on the offensive end but the forward still led SU in scoring while finding other ways to affect the game. “(Christmas) is definitely guarding the hole down there,” SU point guard Kaleb Joseph said. “When guys break through the gaps in our zone he’s definitely down there holding the fort down. So I think it’s definitely good to have that safety net down there.” Commentslast_img read more