Men's Basketball

Syracuse role players provide spark off bench in win over Wagner

Ryan MacCammon | Staff Photographer

James Southerland scored 15 points against Wagner in the Carrier Dome on Sunday. Southerland, Baye Moussa Keita and Trevor Cooney chipped in a combined 38 points.

Wagner center Naofall Folahan rose from his seat on the bench, throwing his arms in the air to signal the 3-pointer his teammate Marcus Burton just made. His teammates and coaches joined him in the act, spilling onto the court.

Their contingent of fans – standing in four rows in the second deck of the Carrier Dome – came to life, starting chants for Wagner in a suddenly quiet arena.

Then Syracuse guard Trevor Cooney entered the game. After another 3 on the ensuing possession started another Seahawks celebration, Cooney ended the run with a steal and assist to teammate Brandon Triche.

“I just want to be a spark off the bench,” Cooney said. “I feel like we had that last year with Dion (Waiters) so if I can come out and just play hard, get some deflections, get some easy baskets for my teammates and get me going and my team going.”

Cooney’s steal brought the Syracuse bench to its feet for the first time and provided the first highlight for the Orange’s (2-0) role players in its 88-57 win over Wagner (0-2) at the Carrier Dome on Sunday. Cooney scored eight points, while Baye Moussa Keita finished with a career-high 15 and James Southerland added another 15, providing a lift off the bench to help Syracuse run away from a pesky Seahawks team.

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim praised all three players for their efforts after the game. He watched as Cooney became that spark defensively, Southerland turned in an efficient night from the field and an active Moussa Keita went 6-for-6 from the floor to seal the 31-point win in the second half.

“When we go in, we have to pick it up, so I think that’s our job,” Moussa Keita said. “We have a pretty good bench, me and Trev, James and Jerami (Grant) so every time we go in, we just try to pick up the intensity a little bit and play the best we can.”

Cooney set the tone with his hustle play early on and carried it through the second half.

The guard scored his first career points on a right-handed putback off his own miss and tried to ignite his team as he ran down the court.  He then fed Triche, who knocked down a jumper to give the Orange a five-point lead.

Cooney gave a fist pump as the ball fell through before nodding his head as he set up across from Triche in the 2-3 zone.

“That’s how I play,” said Cooney, who finished with six steals. “I play with my emotions and I like to get them going and it helps me get into the game.

“And if I can be fired up, it’s just going to make me play that much better.”

On Sunday, Cooney’s play made Syracuse better, too.

It’s a role he shares with Southerland and Keita coming off the bench. Southerland, who provided a steady eight points before the break and seven after, said the bench did its job against the Seahawks.

“Coming off the bench, you see the game before you’re getting in there,” Southerland said. “And you go in there and you see what the team’s doing wrong – being a leader, you just go out there and you let them know what they’re doing wrong and making sure they fix their mistakes.”

Southerland said he played with confidence and he also noticed the contributions from Cooney and Moussa Keita. Southerland said Cooney made the shots and kept the pressure up early for the Orange while Moussa Keita did his damage at the end.

The 6-foot-10 junior center poured in all 15 of his points after the break and keyed the final run for the Orange midway through the second half. He was a force under the basket, finishing dunks and layups and getting to the foul line to build on SU’s commanding lead.

He and Southerland combined for 22 points in the second half, and the big man finished it off with an easy layup over the front of the basket off a pass from Cooney.

Syracuse’s lead stood at 25 points with less than seven minutes to play, Wagner’s early run was only a footnote and Boeheim appreciated the effort as he clapped looking on from the sideline.

“We have a deep bench and if we can come off the bench and make an impact,” Cooney said, “it just makes us that much better of a team.”

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