SYRACUSE, N.Y. (CBSLA.com/AP) — Coach Jim Boeheim has only taken a handful of transfers in his long tenure at Syracuse. His latest is finally hitting his stride.
Michael Gbinije had career highs of 24 points and eight assists and added six rebounds on Sunday, leading the Orange past Long Beach State 85-67.
For the 6-foot-7 junior swingman, who transferred from Duke after his freshman year, his 11th start of the season -- and career -- was magical. He hit 10 of 13 shots and played every minute, also a career first.
"I embrace my role," said Gbinije, who endured some harsh criticism from Boeheim earlier in the season for some lackluster play. "My mindset now is just trying to stay competitive. Now, I'm pushing in practice and trying to compete."
It was the second straight win for Syracuse (8-4), which averted its fifth nonconference loss of the season, something that's never happened since Boeheim became head coach in 1976.
Long Beach State (5-9) dropped to 0-9 on the road in its grueling schedule and has lost five straight since a 68-57 victory over Nevada in early December.
Syracuse dropped out of the national rankings after an early-season loss to California and had floundered before nearly upsetting then-No. 17 Michigan and No. 7 Villanova on the road earlier this month.
Including the Michigan game on Dec. 2, Gbinije has scored in double figures in five of six games and keyed the decisive second-half spurt against the 49ers.
"I think they're getting better," 49ers coach Dan Monson said of the Orange. "They've really improved. They're getting comfortable offensively. Gbinije gives them another dimension they haven't had. I thought he was the difference. He spread us out, kind of broke it open."
Rakeem Christmas had 24 points and 10 rebounds, his fourth double-double of the season, Trevor Cooney had 16 points, and freshman point guard Kaleb Joseph finished with eight points, four steals, and seven assists with two turnovers for the Orange.
Mike Caffey, Tyler Lamb, and Eric McKnight each scored 14 points for Long Beach State and David Samuels added 13.
Syracuse broke open a tight game behind Gbinije, who was 4 of 6 from behind the arc. He hit a 3 from the left corner and a floater to key an 11-2 spurt that gave the Orange a double-digit lead, and the 49ers never threatened again.
"The little things we were doing in the first half, we didn't do in the second half and they got on a run, got in a groove offensively, and we started missing shots," Caffey said. "We've just got to learn how to finish games out, do the little things."
The 49ers brought a strong outside threat into the game, hitting 38.6 percent from 3-point range, and a 14-2 spurt after the opening tip had the Orange reeling.
Lamb started the rush with a wide-open 3 from the wing, Caffey hit from the top of the key, and a tip by Samuels staked Long Beach State to a 14-4 lead just six minutes in.
Syracuse reverted to the press to rally and put together a pair of 11-0 runs to take the lead. A three-point play by Christmas and a diving steal by Cooney to set up Gbinije's layup keyed the first spurt, and Cooney and Gbinije combined to hit three 3-pointers in only 70 seconds.
Cooney's second 3 of the surge gave Syracuse a 26-21 lead with 8:48 left in the half and his three-point play just over two minutes later increased the margin to 31-23.
The 49ers wouldn't go away, though, and a follow by Lamb moved them back within a basket with 2:09 left.
Two free throws by Christmas and Cooney's 3 at the buzzer gave Syracuse three players in double figures and a 44-40 halftime lead.
The Beach continues their schedule against ranked opponents on Tuesday against No. 4 Louisville.
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