Beaulieu: Former CSU Ram Gillon now driving Syracuse

Mack Beaulieu

When John Gillon left Colorado State last spring to play basketball for Syracuse he took a giant step in his basketball career. After rising from the University of Arkansas Little Rock to CSU, he has now moved to the hardest league in college basketball in the ACC.

Gillon is starting to answer the call as Syracuse’s starting point guard. The Orange (13-9, 5-4 ACC) has been getting all they can handle from the ACC this season but they got their biggest win of the season in large part thanks to the former Ram.

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Gillon scored Syracuse’s last 13 points, hitting 11-of-12 free throws in that stretch. The layup, that finishes that equation with 1:21 remaining in the game, put Syracuse up 74-70 and proved to be the winning basket. It was all Gillon free throws after that as his team won 82-72 over then No. 6 Florida State.

In Syracuse’s 13 wins Gillon is shooting 50 percent from the field and scoring just over 11 points per game. In their 9 losses Gillon’s shooting percentage drops to a paltry 28 percent and a little over five points scoring average.

Gillon is knocking down his threes at an impressive 37 percent, right around the point where a three becomes as efficient as hitting 50 percent from the field.

Gillon struggled a bit early in the season in Jim Boeheim’s famous 2-3 zone defensive scheme but lately is playing better and better on that end. Although he is not your ideal physical profile for the 2-3 zone, which is most effective with lanky players at every position, the 6-foot Gillon makes up for his lack of size with quickness and active hands.

Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, more than any player, has been the catalyst for Boeheim’s years and years of success. Gillon’s execution is critical and he had a few key steals in the Orange’s recent win over Florida State. As if he needed a cherry on top of his 21 point, 11 assist, 3 steal game Gillon even got his first block of the season with :09 left in the game.

Gillon needs to sustain a high level of play for Syracuse to continue winning and make a run at the NCAA tournament. The transfer guard has great vision but there are times when the Orange are getting less from it than they should.

Instead of kicking out to an open shooter Gillion has a habit of throwing up wild and contested shots. In these instances he wastes all the good work he does in collapsing the defense. The game against Florida State where he was calm, composed and finding teammates in open spots is the kind of player Colorado State misses and Syracuse needs the rest of the season.

Any team worth its salt in March Madness has some level of star-power. This is where Gillon needs to assert himself most. Syracuse’s Tyler Lydon and Taurean Thompson will most likely work their way onto an NBA roster and many of their other players are budding or senior talents. Gillon can help all these players improve and be more affective, probably while improving his own shooting percentage.

Gillon will have the ball in his hands down the stretch of close games as he is one of the best players Syracuse has at driving the lane, their best distributor and their top choice to take the free throw. To make a run at playing in March Madness, something Syracuse expects, Gillon is going to have to focus his energy on bringing the stars out in Syracuse while putting in the work on defense.

Gillon went to Syracuse, presumably, to be closer to the apex of the game that he loves. With Syracuse he is going to be given every chance to keep pushing for that goal while the Orange are still playing. The former Colorado State Ram is showing the ACC what the Mountain West already knew: John Gillon is a playmaker and and gives whatever team he is on a fighting chance.

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Collegian guest author Mack Beaulieu can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com