first_imgOne week after playing what Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim called his worst half of the year, center Rakeem Christmas helped deliver the Orange a victory in its first Atlantic Coast Conference game as a member school.Christmas shined in the paint to keep the otherwise offensively lifeless Orange in the game during the second half before igniting the team’s comeback run with a big block on Hurricanes 7-foot center Tonye Jekiri.“He’s worked hard in practice,” Boeheim said. “I think there’s some opportunities for us to get him (the ball) there. We need to work on that and get better at that. I think he is certainly capable of scoring around the basket.”’Christmas finished with eight points and seven rebounds in No. 2 SU’s 49-44 win over the Hurricanes on Saturday. He missed a couple easy shots and lost a handful of close rebounds, but was arguably the determining factor down the stretch as SU rebounded from a six-point deficit with 12:23 to play. In a season where he’s received more wrath from Boeheim than any other player in games, it was finally Christmas’ turn to shine.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“We got down and I just wanted to go back in there, get strong and make big plays,” Christmas said. “And it got our team going.”He put back a C.J. Fair miss in traffic with 7:19 left and backed down Jekiri two possessions later for a close-range hook.While Trevor Cooney went 2-for-12 from beyond the arc and C.J. Fair failed to score for a 17-minute, 33-second stretch, Christmas stepped up offensively. Then he carried that momentum to the defensive side of the court, where he has struggled throughout the start of the year.Christmas made the defensive play of the game, turning away Jekiri. A rejection that Fair said got the Orange over the hump.“Rakeem made the key play when he went back and got that lob,” Boeheim said. “He made a huge play there.”With sophomore center DaJuan Coleman hampered by a left leg contusion, Christmas’ improved play will be crucial for Syracuse as it continues into conference play.If the offense that developed early in the season is joined by consistent rebounding and defensive efficiency, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with late in games.“We just come together as a team,” Christmas said. “We want to play hard when the game’s close like that.” Comments Published on January 4, 2014 at 8:12 pm Contact Stephen: [email protected] | @Stephen_Bailey1 Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more