Frank Howard on Michael Gbinije: ‘We feed off him. When he’s going, we’re going’

first_imgST. LOUIS – To Jim Boeheim, there was only one difference that separated Syracuse from Middle Tennessee State. He pressed his fingers on his forehead, his answer repetitive yet concise, and the explanation came with a demeanor that would’ve suggested Syracuse was the second victim in three days to the Cinderella team from Murfreesboro, Tennessee.“The difference was when Mike got going,” Boeheim said of Michael Gbinije. “That was the difference. That was the only difference in the game.”Syracuse led by just four points over six minutes into the second half, unable to widen the margin that was the same when both teams were in their locker rooms. But all it took was two minutes and 14 seconds. Two minutes and 14 seconds that Boeheim deemed the lone separation between the Orange advancing to the Sweet Sixteen and possibly heading back to Syracuse with no games left in its season.First a jumper in the lane that bounced around the rim before falling. Then another of similar nature. And finally, a 3-pointer from the corner with a hand in his face to give the Orange (21-13, 9-9 Atlantic Coast) a nine-point lead that wouldn’t dip any lower. On Sunday night, the fifth-year senior was the fifth-year senior he’s been all year. His 34th consecutive game scoring in double figures came as a surprise to no one. This time, his 23 points extended not only the 10th-seeded Orange’s lead in an eventual 75-50 win against the No. 15-seed Blue Raiders, but also Gbinije’s college basketball career and Syracuse’s season as it advances to the NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen.“I just wanted to apply some energy for us. Scoring the basketball did it,” Gbinije said. “I’m just focusing on time and possession, looking at the scoreboard, just trying to make sure that each possession we have the lead.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThe time was 18:39 left in the second half. The possession was with Syracuse, inbounding the ball after the nation’s best 3-point shooter hit his first long ball of the half. But Syracuse didn’t have the lead. Giddy Potts had put Middle Tennessee ahead for the first time in almost 22 minutes.Syracuse swiftly grabbed it back in less than a minute, but it couldn’t pull away. With each bucket by America’s new darlings from Conference USA, its contingent to the right of the basket it shot on erupted. And with each response from the storied program from the Power 5 conference, the cluster of traveling supporters directly behind the Orange’s bench cheered in relief masked by celebration.After Gbinije’s two buckets from the free-throw area, he stood near one of the blocks as freshman Frank Howard surveyed the court atop the key. Howard’s eyes motioned for Gbinije to dart toward the corner. He did. Howard darted for the lane before kicking out to his second option, who hit a 3 in Potts’ face.“If I could get around the screen, I had an outlet if I couldn’t get to the basket,” Howard said. “I knew Mike was on a roll at that point, he had like two or three jump shots. So I told him to go to the corner just in case I had to kick it out and he was there and he made the shot.”The nine-point lead ballooned into the 20s and a game hanging in the balance had been blown wide open. The rest was a quasi-highlight reel for Syracuse, featuring Gbinije’s breakaway two-handed flush that complemented an earlier tomahawk dunk.The Orange was penciled into the Sweet Sixteen after Gbinije’s spurt gave it a cushion, but now it was etched in pen.With under 20 seconds left in the game and the Syracuse pep band yelling out the numbers on the dwindling shot clock, Gbinije handled the ball at the top of the key with a 25-point lead. For good measure, before Malachi Richardson flapped his arms up in the air and Reggie Upshaw draped a towel over his head when the final buzzer sounded, Gbinije hoisted one more shot that dropped right through the net like the nine before.“He’s the leader of the team. He’s the best player,” Howard said. “We feed off him. When he’s going, we’re going.”All season, Gbinije has been going. Sometimes even when the team isn’t. And less than two weeks after it seemed he’d finish his career off of college basketball’s biggest stage, Syracuse is still going. Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on March 20, 2016 at 10:35 pm Contact Matt: [email protected] | @matt_schneidmanlast_img

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