For the second time in three games Saturday, the No. 3-ranked Syracuse Orange men's basketball team were able to pull out a close victory without their starting center, Fab Melo, as they edged the West Virginia Mountaineers, 63-61, in a Big East Conference game at the Carrier Dome. The Orange (22-1, 9-1 Big East) are now 2-1 without the 7-footer, who is currently dealing with an unresolved acedemic issue that happened in the first semester.
"He's working through his issue, we're hopeful this week we find out," said Boeheim about Melo near the tail end of his post-game press conference. "We will see. We will see what happens."
For the second time in three games, the Orange were badly outrebounded by their opponent, as the Mountaineers collected 41 board to SU's 20. Last Saturday, against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, which handed Syracuse its first loss of the season, 67-58, the Orange were outrebounded 34-21. On Monday, SU slightly outrebounded Cincinnati Bearcats, 36-35, in a 60-53 road victory.
However, with or without Melo, rebounding has been an issue for Syracuse, which entered Saturday's game ranked 11 out of 16 teams in the Big East in rebound margin (plus-0.6).
"We had just enough on offense to make up for the fact that they'd miss and get it back, miss and get it back and finally score," said Boeheim who was adamant that Melo's absence had little to do with SU's rebounding issues. "It's really about our guards and forwards doing a better job of rebounding the ball."
Syracuse's junior guard Brandon Triche, who netted a team-best 18 points, including two game-winning free throws with 1:28 to play Saturday, agreed.
"(When) Fab (Melo is) down there he usually controls it a little bit more than the other guys," said Triche."A lot of the balls were on the foul line or under the foul line and those are rebounds the guards should get."
The absence of Melo, who currently leads the Big East in block shots per game (3.0), also hasn't really hurt Syracuse's shot-blocking ability either, as the Orange have averaged 5.0 blocked shots per game without him, while with him they were averaging about 7.5 bpg -- SU tallied just two blocks in its loss to Notre Dame.
On Saturday, Melo was dressed in street clothes and sat on the bench, as sophomore forward C.J. Fair started his third straight game. Fair ended the contest with seven points, three rebounds and three steals, while reserve center, sophomore Baye Moussa Keita, tallied four points, four rebounds and three blocks.
SU's starting center, freshman Rakeem Christmas, struggled posting no points, grabbing just one rebound and fouled out in 14-playing minutes.
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