Big surprise: In reversal of expectations, Melo struggles, Moussa Keita impresses through 2 games

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on November 15, 2010 at 12:00 pm Commentscenter_img Prior to Syracuse’s first practice of the 2010 season, head coach Jim Boeheim lauded the progression of one of SU’s center recruits in the Class of 2010. But Boeheim was not talking about the perceived jewel of the class — Fab Melo. Boeheim was speaking of the other center, Baye Moussa Keita. And after SU’s 86-67 win over Canisius Sunday, Boeheim took the time out to remind everyone. ‘I said in the preseason he’s been the biggest surprise on our team,’ Boeheim said. ‘He still has a long way to go, but he’s an active player.’ Surprise, surprise. Moussa Keita will look to keep up his play while Melo hopes to bounce back, as Syracuse (2-0) prepares to take on Detroit (0-1) Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Carrier Dome.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text After two games in which Boeheim was irate at the play of the SU’s bench players and freshmen who were supposed to bring depth to the team, Moussa Keita has been the biggest positive surprise for the Orange. Through two games, Moussa Keita has logged 17.5 minutes per game. And in Sunday’s win, he hauled in an astounding 15 rebounds in just 17 minutes of play, albeit against a much smaller Canisius team. In that postgame press conference, during which Boeheim asserted that no freshman has done anything of significance yet, the one person he singled out aside from his main four returning players was Moussa Keita. Yes, he would ream his bench in the locker room and press room about the fact that they hadn’t done anything yet to prove they lived up to the hype. They were ‘overrated.’ But Moussa Keita was the one who wasn’t. He was the surprise. He was a necessity, even if he wasn’t an expectation. ‘We wouldn’t have won tonight without him,’ Boeheim said, before drilling home the point with another short sentence. ‘That’s how important he is.’ The expected freshman necessity heading into the season was Melo. He would bring the depth down low to get past the Sweet 16. He would bring scoring. He would become the low-post presence everyone expected, as he was named the Big East Preseason Rookie of the Year. Melo has been a surprise through two games. But to Moussa Keita’s positive yin, Melo has been the negative yang. Melo started both games but averaged just three points. The more discouraging statistic is that Melo has seven total rebounds in the two games. But perhaps the most discouraging part of his game has been that Melo hasn’t been able to keep himself on the floor. Against Northern Iowa, Melo fouled out. Sunday, Melo reverted to his foul-prone ways at the end of the first half. After the Orange had only amassed two total fouls in the game’s first 16 minutes, Melo quickly ended the trend. He picked up his first foul at the 3:23 mark with the game tied. Eighteen seconds later, he picked up his second foul. He picked up foul No. 3 just 27 seconds after that. Moussa Keita promptly subbed in. From that point on, Moussa Keita would haul in 11 rebounds to go along with his 3-of-5 shooting from the field, totaling six points. And from there, Melo played just four more minutes. In the SU locker room after the game, Melo had a certain vibe to him. A vibe that fused frustration, disbelief and apathy. Apathy toward the fouls. A sense of apathy because Boeheim told Melo the fouls were unwarranted. Melo played a half full of proper defensive position in Boeheim’s 2-3 zone. Nothing to be worried about with his play. ‘Most of the fouls, I don’t think they were fouls,’ Melo said. ‘(Boeheim) told me, ‘It was a good job, so keep playing defense.’ That is what I was doing. And the fouls, I didn’t like it a lot.’ And neither did Boeheim. The foul trouble was the facet of Melo’s game Thursday that aligned as a disappointment with the rest of the bench’s poor play. Melo just wasn’t in there enough to do anything, and his growth had been stunted. Against Canisius, SU struggled to grow as well. The much-maligned first half was highlighted by the 26-25 deficit Syracuse faced with 2:48 left when Melo exited. But in came Moussa Keita and, surprise, the Orange only trailed for the next 21 seconds before it would go up for the rest of the game. Moussa Keita proved the turning point, giving SU a 27-26 lead it wouldn’t relinquish on a simple layup following an offensive rebound. The next possession down, Moussa Keita deflected a Gaby Belardo pass, resulting in a Kris Joseph bucket. Soon, SU was up 32-26 because Moussa Keita had done the easy things. Unlike the first game, he wouldn’t foul out along with Melo. He played a second half Boeheim referred to as a huge step for the freshman from Senegal. He was the player who Boeheim felt turned SU around from not doing much on the boards to dominating the boards. But to Moussa Keita, he just had to correct an easy mistake. Grab the basketball with two hands. Not one. Success would ensue. It was that simple in order to surprise. ‘In the first half I was trying to grab everything with one hand, and in the second half I was trying to go after every rebound,’ Moussa Keita said. ‘Try to go up with both hands. That’s what I did in the second half.’ [email protected]last_img

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