After two blowout victories against Alcorn State and Kennesaw State on Nov. 14 and Nov. 16, respectively, the Cal men’s basketball team headed to New York to face No. 23 Syracuse for the third season in a row. Under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden, the Bears ran away with a massive upset, 73-59, dismantling the Orange and their 2-3 zone to go with it.
Against Syracuse’s notorious zone defense, Cal opened the game by relying on lots of ball movement and high post work against an increasingly lackadaisical Orange squad. Both teams seemed to struggle on offense for most of the first half, combining for fewer than 30 points with less than eight minutes to play. But a three from guard Jabari Bird — who went 4-5 from beyond the arc in the game — apparently triggered the rest of the Bears’ offense, which went on an 12-2 run in the last few minutes of the first half. Cal entered halftime with a comfortable 34-22 lead over the Orange.
“We couldn’t get our offense going at all,” said Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim. “You score 20 points (in a half), you’re going to have problems.”
A trey from Bird to open the second half would bring Cal’s lead to 13, giving the Bears a cushion they would hold onto until the buzzer. Despite a quick 7-0 run for the Orange, Cal’s much-esteemed backcourt knocked down three after three to keep Syracuse out of the game. Sophomore guard Jordan Mathews, one of four Bears to score in the double digits, tallied 20 of his game-high 22 points in the second half, while Bird notched 16 points.
Before the game, however, most eyes were on Cal’s guard Tyrone Wallace. Wallace was named Pac-12 Player of the Week after averaging some gaudy numbers in the first two games of the year, including 20 points per game and 9.5 rebounds per game. The junior, who finished the game with 10 points and five assists, failed to score his first points against Syracuse until more than seven minutes in and went 0-3 from 3-point range along with six turnovers.
While Cal showcased its full arsenal of scoring threats, the team found contributions all through the lineup, including from starting redshirt junior forward Christian Behrens, who opened the game by scoring the Bears’ first five points. Cal’s rim protector, senior forward David Kravish, notched a double-double with 12 points — including Cal’s second three of the game — and 10 rebounds. In limited minutes, sophomore guard Sam Singer also quietly contributed eight assists and four rebounds off the bench.
In the closing minutes of the game, Syracuse brought on a full-court press in a last resort to slow down the Bears’ scoring but continued to fail to guard the arc, with Cal shooting 42.1 percent from three. Syracuse, which shot 26.7 percent from three, lost Tyler Ennis to the NBA this season and has struggled to find a suitable floor general so far. Starting guards Kaleb Joseph and Trevor Cooney combined for only 22 points and six assists.
“I thought the guys did a good job of carrying out the assignment from the scouting report from practice in the game,” said Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin. “It’s a long game, and they’re a great team that makes you work for shots.”