The absence of Fab Melo was evident on Saturday.
Syracuse couldn't keep Kansas State off the offensive glass in the first half, allowing 15 offensive rebounds in the first 20 minutes. Jordan Henriquez nabbed 11 offensive boards, and the Wildcats eventually finished with 25 second chances.
However, Kansas State couldn't make the most of its extra possessions, only getting 20 second-chance points, allowing Syracuse to pull away late in the game en route to a 75-59 win.
The key in the second half for the Orange – aside from Scoop Jardine's stellar offensive play – was Rakeem Christmas, who stepped up in a major way in the place of Melo. The freshman big man finished with eight points, 11 rebounds and three blocks, but it was more than that.
He limited the second chances for Kansas State, grabbing key defensive rebounds in the second stanza. He ran the floor well and finished easy dumpoffs around the basket after Jardine or Dion Waiters penetrated. Christmas' length was a major problem for Kansas State's offense in the second half, intercepting soft passes from the Wildcats.
More importantly, Christmas stayed out of foul trouble. He was able to play 34 minutes as an anchor to the 2-3 zone defense, which was huge. Although Syracuse is extremely deep, the loss of Melo does hinder the inside personnel in a major way. Baye Keita only saw the floor for five minutes, but did get two blocked shots while on the court.
This should be a confidence boost for both Christmas and Syracuse going forward. The Orange looked lackluster in the four games without Melo this season, but Christmas' production could change that. Moreover, Christmas is expected to play a bigger role next season, and games like this against a physical Kansas State team can only speed up the learning process.
He's not Fab Melo, but Rakeem Christmas is trying to make his absence less noticeable.