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first_imgNEW YORK — For the second night in a row, Kaleb Joseph found Rakeem Christmas for a dunk for Syracuse’s first basket.But on Thursday night, the emphatic, crowd-stirring alley-oop from Joseph to Christmas was a misleading start to what would be a game of offensive struggles for SU. On Friday, Christmas’ less-resounding slam was a more accurate beginning to SU’s performance on the offensive end.Christmas dunked again 44 seconds later off a pass from freshman Chris McCullough, and their presence around the paint became a recurring theme.While the No. 23 Orange’s (3-1) woes from outside persisted, its efficiency down low carried it to a 66-63 victory over Iowa (2-2) in the 2K Classic consolation game at Madison Square Garden. Christmas, a night after fouling out with just eight points, went for 18 points and freshman forward Chris McCullough finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks.Both shot better than 50 percent from the floor, and both came through in the final minute as Syracuse held off the Hawkeyes’ pesky comeback attempt.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“Chris made a huge play on the defensive end and Rak was our go-to throughout the game,” Joseph said. “… They didn’t really have an answer for Rak or Chris down in the post so that’s something we try to take advantage of.”After impressive showings against Kennesaw State and Hampton last weekend, Christmas was limited to 23 minutes and eight points against California on Thursday before fouling out with 6:23 to play. Syracuse shot just 23.5 percent from 3 and with Christmas on the bench and McCullough physically outmatched in his place, the Orange couldn’t create enough offense on the inside to make up for it.But in a collective bounce-back effort, Christmas and McCullough owned the paint against the Hawkeyes.“We were just being aggressive,” Christmas said. “We were trying to put the game from last night behind us. Just come out here, it’s a new day and just try to play our game like we normally do.”Christmas followed up his game-opening dunk with another one, off a pass from McCullough. The senior continually outworked Iowa’s big men for position, often in Christmas’ ideal spot in the post — a defender behind his back and only a couple dribbles needed to get a clear look at the rim.By halftime, the pair of SU big men had tallied 20 of the team’s 34 points. “They were able to get to the foul line early and get some of those guys in foul trouble,” guard Trevor Cooney said, “and when they get position, you’ve got to give them the ball.”McCullough, on a pick-and-roll with Joseph, converted an and-one to open the second half. He smoothly connected on a midrange jumper six minutes later, then followed it up with an athletic reverse layup high off the glass to give SU a 50-35 lead with 12:05 remaining.But after a Michael Gbinije dunk with 8:35 left, the Hawkeyes made their run.Powered by a pair of Jarrod Uthoff 3s, Iowa embarked on a 15-2 run to cut the score to 59-58 with 3:34 left. Out of a timeout, Joseph beat Iowa’s trap, charged at the rim with a full head of steam and dropped a one-bounce pass for a cutting McCullough to throw down.Again, SU’s lead was cut to one by an Adam Woodbury layup, and a Joseph miss put the ball in Iowa’s hands with 14.4 seconds left.“He said if Rak has to step out to the corner,” McCullough said of SU head coach Jim Boeheim, “I got to fill in his spot and that’s exactly what I did.”Christmas went toward the corner to trap Woodbury, who tried to get a pass to forward Adam White in the paint.Instead, the ball found the hands of a rotating McCullough. He and Christmas tacked on four free throws and sealed an Orange victory in its first down-to-the-wire game of the season.Said Boeheim of McCullough’s steal: “That was the game. If he doesn’t come across and get that one, we don’t win.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on November 21, 2014 at 7:15 pm Contact Phil: [email protected] | @PhilDAbblast_img read more