Fab Melo's Coming Out Party
March 11, 2011
It took Fab Melo 32 games, almost the entire season, to fully showcase the abilities that made him one of the top recruits in the nation last season.
To Syracuse's benefit, the 7-foot freshman center from Brazil couldn't have chosen a better day for his college coming out party.
Melo scored a career-high 12 points, including two huge baskets in the final two minutes, to spark the Orange to a 79-73 come-from-behind win over St. John's in the Big East Conference quarterfinals Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
SU (26-6), the No. 4 seed, moves on to play No. 9 Connecticut in the semifinals at 7 tonight. The Huskies surprised No. 1 seed Pittsburgh 76-74 on Kemba Walker's last-second jumper in the day's first game.
Sophomore Brandon Triche scored 14 of his season-high 22 points in the second half as SU overcame a 37-32 halftime deficit then salted the game away by scoring 11 of the final 16 points.
Junior Kris Joseph added 14 points, while senior Rick Jackson and junior Scoop Jardine each contributed 10 in a balanced Orange attack as SU beat No. 5 St. John's (21-11) for the second time this season at MSG.
"I didn't feel any pressure because coach has been showing more faith in me every game," said Melo, who went 5-for-5 from the floor and grabbed four rebounds in a season-high 22 minutes of action. "It feels great, especially to help my teammates who have never given up on me. Hopefully, this is a big step for me and I've gotten my confidence back."
SU coach Jim Boeheim said Melo has been working hard and shown signs of coming out of a season-long funk.
"He's had a lot of good practices the last couple of weeks," said Boeheim, whose club has played just twice in the last 14 days. "Fab made a couple of big plays at Georgetown, then had his best game against DePaul (last Saturday). Today, he caught the ball and finished like we've been trying to get him to do all season."
Melo had a hand in the four most significant plays down the stretch.
After St. John's took a 67-66 lead on a pair of Justin Brownlee free throws with 4:05 remaining, Melo fed Jackson from the high post for a dunk.
After Sean Evans tied it again with a free throw, Triche spotted Melo open underneath on an inbounds play, and Melo coaxed the ball into the basket to give the Orange the lead for good.
"That play was intended for Rick," said Boeheim. "But Fab made a nice cut and then finished it off in traffic."
Said Melo: "They just left me open and Brandon saw me just in time. Today I took my time when I caught the ball instead of rushing the shot up."
After Dwight Hardy (22 points) missed a 3-pointer for St. John's, Melo got his hands on an offensive rebound, fed Jackson and he spotted Joseph coming down the lane for another easy hoop.
Hardy hit both ends of a 1-and-1 at the 1:06 mark to trim the SU lead to 72-70. But after Boeheim took a time-out, Triche drove the baseline and passed to Melo down low. Melo gave a great head fake to get his defender in the air, and then laid the ball in softly.
"That's where my patience really came into play," Melo said. "It's not that difficult a move if you just take your time."
After another St. John's turnover, Joseph converted a free throw, and Triche hit four foul shots in a row over the final 20 seconds to secure the victory.
"Brandon got us going with his shooting (3-for-5 on 3-pointers) early in the half, then Rick and Fab just made some great plays down the stretch," said Boeheim. "We also got a couple of key steals in transition."
St. John's coach Steve Lavin said give SU credit for making all the big plays.
"They got some good interior looks, some high-percentage shots and got enough stops defensively to earn the victory," said Lavin. "It was clearly a high-level Big East tournament game between two teams who demonstrated a fierce competitive spirit."
SU seized the early momentum, surging to a 14-5 lead after the opening six minutes. But St. John's, which was 8-1 at MSG this season (its only loss to SU), surged into a 37-32 halftime lead.
"The first half we were too stationary against their zone," Boeheim said. "We also had 12 turnovers. The second half we had just three, and that's the difference between scoring 47 points and 32."
Triche and Jardine, who played only nine minutes in the first because due to foul trouble, led a 9-1 run to give the Orange a 41-38 advantage just 21/2 minutes into the second half.
The Orange maintained a slim lead for the next 13 minutes, setting the stage for Melo's brilliant stretch.