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D’Abbraccio: Christmas loses battle with Okafor, chance to build pro stock in biggest game of year

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Rakeem Christmas picked the worst possible night for his most inefficient performance of the season.He shot 3-of-10 for eight points in Syracuse’s loss to California on Nov. 20 — but that was just three games in. He scored just seven points against Boston College on Wednesday night, but dished out five assists and SU won by 14.But on Saturday evening in the Carrier Dome, against Duke and the best center in the country, Christmas’ struggles were amplified. He made just five of his 17 attempts from the floor for a 29.4 percentage — his lowest in a single game this year — and failed to counter Jahlil Okafor’s dominance on the other end.Syracuse’s go-to scorer for most of the year didn’t take ownership of that role, and it doomed the Orange (16-9, 7-5 Atlantic Coast) in its 80-72 loss to the No. 4 Blue Devils (22-3, 9-3) and potentially put a dent in Christmas’ professional stock.“They were some easy shots I normally make,” Christmas said. “I just got to get back in the gym and work on them and I’ll be fine.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textBy the time Christmas finally got one of his shots to fall on Saturday, five had misfired and he had lost two turnovers.But through the first half, it seemed Syracuse would be OK without him. By the break, forward Michael Gbinije had hit five 3s and racked up 19 points and guard Trevor Cooney had hit a pair of 3s.“One of the reasons Christmas is so good is because of Cooney, because you have to stay with Cooney all the time,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “And then when Gbinije is playing the way he is, it opens up space and you can’t help as much.“And that’s why Jah’s defense tonight was even better, because we weren’t able to give him much help.”Duke guard Matt Jones face-guarded Cooney, guard Quinn Cook blanketed Gbinije and the Blue Devils double-teamed Christmas less frequently than any other ACC opponent.Meaning, the middle was there for the taking — in theory.The 6-foot-11, 270-pound Okafor — who SU head coach Jim Boeheim said will be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft — defends well one-on-one but not on pick-and-rolls, which SU has been running with Christmas all season long. And in the final seven minutes of the game, Okafor was one foul away from fouling out.But Christmas still couldn’t convert.They weren’t all ideal looks. Okafor bodied up Christmas well and stayed disciplined enough on most of the SU senior’s shot fakes.Yet Christmas got them off cleanly and, as he said, they were shots he usually makes.And the fact he managed just one field goal with Okafor defending him — a mere garbage-time dunk — says more about Christmas’ lack of strength in the post than his versatility on offense.He drove from the top for his first field goal, faked out Duke’s backup center for his second, pulled up for an uncontested mid-range jumper and dunked on a nonchalant Blue Devils defense with 11 seconds left in the game for his other scores.They weren’t the kind of points he usually gets, nor should Christmas expect to get going forward.“He was a little outside and then he didn’t get by,” Boeheim said. “He just didn’t quite get to the basket and he had some good looks. Ball just didn’t go down for him there.”When NBA scouts watch Christmas’ tape, they won’t watch him dominate over irrelevant ACC big men.They’ll want to assess how he fared against the potential No. 1 pick and what they’ll find is Christmas struggling against the first legitimate future pro he’s faced all season, which doesn’t suggest Christmas’ size would translate well to the NBA.He’ll get a new, albeit slightly less telling chance to answer that question on Wednesday night when Montrezl Harrell mans the paint for Louisville. After that, Christmas will square off with Okafor once more at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Feb. 28, and that’ll be his last chance to really impress scouts.Because, as we all know, Christmas won’t have a shot to face a Tournament team’s frontcourt. Okafor is, in a way, Christmas’ NCAA Tournament.Fortunately for Christmas, he has two weeks before the next round.Phil D’Abbraccio is the sports editor at The Daily Orange, where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @PhilDAbb. Comments Published on February 16, 2015 at 12:10 amlast_img read more