PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) — Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim doesn’t hand out compliments lightly.
He gave his team a big one after their performance in the Battle 4 Atlantischampionship game.
“This was a great tournament for us. I don’t think we’ve ever gone through a tournament where we’ve been the underdog for two straight games,” he said. “So this might be one of our better wins.”
Michael Gbinije had 20 points, Malachi Richardson added 16 and the Orange held off No. 25 Texas A&M 74-67 on Friday. It is Syracuse’s first early season tournament title since the Orange won the 2013 Maui Invitational.
It took a second-half spurt for Syracuse to pull out a three-point win over Connecticut in the semifinals. This time the Orange relied on the toughness-driven brand of basketball that was its hallmarks in its Big East Conference days.
Gbinije was selected the tournament’s most valuable player. Trevor Cooney added 15 points and also made the all-tournament team.
The game was tight throughout the second half and featured nine ties and 12 lead changes.
But after the score was tied at 61, the Orange (6-0) outscored the Aggies (6-1) 13-6 over the final 5:38.
“We made 3’s early so they had to come out and cover us,” Cooney said. “We were about to get the lane and make plays. That’s what we gotta continue to do.”
Jalen Jones led Texas A&M with 23 points, and Danuel House added 15.
The Aggies led by two at halftime. That changed in the final 20 minutes as they struggled to get easy baskets. They also finished just 7 for 11 from the free throw line.
“We were all around the basket and didn’t get fouled, and we didn’t make layups,” Aggies coach Billy Kennedy said.
The game was played within a basket for most of the second half.
The Orange was aggressive with its zone, but the Aggies were just as patient working for open shots.
The 3’s kept falling for Syracuse, though, and it finally got some separation at 72-63 on a three-point play by Cooney with 3:10 remaining.
Texas A&M got 16 first-half points from Jones and took two-point lead into halftime.
The Aggies held the edge despite a strong shooting performance from the Orange that included six 3-pointers.
Syracuse: Finished 11 for 25 from the 3-point line. … Had just two fast-break points.
Texas A&M: Had 36 bench points. … Had 18 assists on its 27 field goals.
CARRYING THE LOAD: Friday marked the second straight game that the trio of Gbinije, Cooney and Tyler Roberson played at least 32 minutes. Cooney played the entire game against the Aggies, with Gbinije logging 37 minutes. “These guys really played hard and played huge minutes three days in a row,” Boeheim said. “We were better at the end of games than we were at the beginning. So that says a lot about their character and their toughness.”
TAKING STOCK: Even with the loss, Kennedy said there is a lot to build on from this week. “We just gotta keep getting better as a team. We gotta play some zone. I think our freshmen had had freshmen moments. It’s a high-level game and just something we’ve gotta learn from. And we will. It’s a great experience for our team to be in that atmosphere three nights in a row.”
AWARD TIME: The Aggies’ Jones and House, along with Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer rounded out the all-tournament team.
Syracuse hosts Wisconsin on Wednesday.
Texas A&M hosts Florida Gulf Coast on Wednesday.